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SoCal Chileans try to reach homeland victims

March 1, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Members of Southern California's Chilean community are anxiously awaiting word from relatives in the South American nation. Getting a hold of relatives caught in the middle of this earthquake is certainly not an easy thing to do, especially when phone service in much of the disaster zone is still down.

The Chilean consulate says there's some 18,000 Chileans who live in the western United States, many of whom are calling the offices in L.A. looking for help and trying to track down those loved ones, but the consul officer is saying that they're in the same boat until the country's communications system is back up and running.

The actual shaking of the Chile earthquake may have only been felt in South America, but its effects are still spreading around the world. In the Los Angeles area, relatives of those caught in the 8.8-magnitude quake keep their eyes locked on news feeds and social networking Web sites trying to get the latest from some of the hardest hit places.

"This is where we get most of the information out, since the media over there is not helping," said Karina Ortiz, an L.A. resident looking for relatives in Chile.

Ortiz and her father have been able to track down some family members who live in Concepcion, which is just 70 miles from the epicenter, but they've been struggling to get a hold of their grandparents despite constantly scouring the Web for any word on their status.

"This person actually got a hold of a family member in Chiwayante, which is where we actually have two, and they tell us that they're very scared. There's only 250 military personnel over there," Ortiz described.

In Oxnard, Viviana O'Leary spent most of the weekend trying to reach relatives in Santiago. It wasn't until Monday morning that O'Leary finally reached her 74-year-old mother.

"After two long days, the line was down completely, and today, I was able to hear my mother's voice, and it was a tremendous relief," said O'Leary.

Pasadena City College professor Patrick Pendolfi doesn't need to see photos of the destruction from his nephew to know just how devastating Chile's earthquakes can be.

"I've been in at least six major ones including the largest ever recorded in Chile in 1960," Pandolfi said.

Pandolfi was just 12 years old when a 9.6 earthquake rumbled for about two minutes. Pandolfi has spoken with most of his family members in the quake damaged areas but not all of them. His nephew's 160-year-old home may not have made it but his nephew did.

"He yanked his wife out in the middle of the earthquake and as soon as he closed the window, the whole building collapsed," said Pandolfi.

The Chilean Consulate says it's planning to set up an account with Bank of America in order to raise funds for earthquake victims.