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Missouri woman connects with children in earthquake-devastated Chile

Chilean student in Columbia stays connected to her children in Chile through social media
Friday, March 12, 2010 | 1:57 p.m. CST; updated 8:05 p.m. CDT, Monday, March 15, 2010
A Chilean homeowner assesses the infrastructure damage to his home after the 8.8 magnitude earthquake which devastated parts of Chile.

COLUMBIA — To find her three children after a massive earthquake in February shook central Chile, Maria Teresa Del Rio relied on Facebook, Twitter and Skype.

Del Rio, a Chilean mother of four pursuing her master’s degree in education at MU, used the social media tools to locate and then connect with two sons and a daughter living in Santiago.

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Vincente, 21, and Jose Ignacio Rodriguez, 23, didn't leave Chile when their parents moved to Columbia,  but daughter Maria Teresa, 19, returned to Santiago in August 2009 after a brief stay here.

Early on the morning of Feb. 27, Del Rio was awakened by a phone call from her brother in Chile.

“Don’t worry, but we had an earthquake," he told her, she said. Although he assured her that her three children in Chile were safe, Del Rio needed to hear from them herself.

A sense of terror persisted as Del Rio thought of her daughter.

“I knew her house was old and not very strong,” she said.

She frantically called her children but phone lines were down. At 8 a.m., she headed off to class, moving her search online.

For the next eight hours, she kept Skype open on her laptop. She got lucky, she thought, when a friend from Chile suddenly appeared on Skype.

Del Rio messaged her but hit a setback when she learned her friend was visiting New York City.

Her friend told her that her own brother in Chile was online. She would ask him to contact Del Rio’s children.

The friend’s brother located them and confirmed the fact that everyone was fine, including her parents and siblings.

According to Del Rio her friend's brother was able to contact her children because communication within Chile was stable but not for outside phone calls.

She did learn that a brother’s house collapsed, but he escaped without injury. Her parents, who lived near the coast, had relocated to higher land.  

Her grandmother, who usually spends her days in her library where shelves and books were stripped from the walls, had been asleep at home and was unharmed.

Her husband’s family, including a brother who was near the epicenter at the time of the 8.8 earthquake, also suffered no major injuries.

Although Del Rio was comforted to learn that her family was accounted for, she began to grasp the devastation in her country and again relied on social networking sites for news.

“They didn’t have phone or electricity for days,” she said about her family members. “Without technology, it would have been impossible to connect. I would have never found out about them.”

Immediately after the earthquake, Del Rio anxiously waited for power to return to Chile so she could Skype with her sons. She was finally able to contact them directly by telephone three days later.

Little government assistance was in place to help people find missing relatives and friends.

“All the findings were through Twitter and TV transmits,” Del Rio said as she navigated a blog of desperate Tweets for help.

Though she said she was thankful to be in the United States at the time of the quake, it was painful for her to be away from her country.

“I miss my children,” she said. “But now, I miss my country.”

Del Rio, her husband Antonio Rodriguez, also an MU student, and 13-year-old son Antonio plan to return to Santiago in August.

Missourian reporter Juan Pablo Garcia contributed to this report.


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