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Student endures Chile earthquake

Natalie Veissalov
LV Life Editor

Ben Van Kleeck, a University of La Verne student who is studying abroad in Chile, was in the country’s capital of Santiago when the 8.8 magnitude earthquake hit the country Feb. 27.

Van Kleek was awakened by the strong shaking when the earthquake struck in the early morning hours.

“When I first felt the earthquake I wasn´t sure what was going on,” Van Kleek said in an e-mailed interview.

“I was sick at the time and it woke me up at 3 in the morning, so I wasn´t sure if I was really in the middle of an earthquake or just delirious. When it started to grow stronger, I jumped up and started working out what to do next.”

He was on the 10th floor of an apartment building where he was staying.

During the quake, Van Kleeck said he stood under the doorway, but the shaking was so intense he could barely stand.

“The worst of the quake lasted a couple of minutes or so, but the ground continued to shake for about 15 minutes,” Van Kleeck said.

Van Kleeck said he was about 300 miles from the epicenter, but the earthquake still felt strong.

“A friend was sleeping on the fourth floor and his mattress was thrown off his bed,” Van Kleeck said.

Unable to find a working phone or Internet access, Van Kleeck said he could not get in contact with family to tell them he was fine.

However, his study abroad program sent an e-mail to all the students’ parents informing them that all the students were uninjured and OK.

Phil Hofer, director of the International and Study Abroad Center, appreciated the quick communication from the study abroad program in Chile.

“I was grateful that communication happened directly and quickly,” said Hofer, who received an e-mail from the program reassuring that all the students were OK.

In the e-mail, it said that all the United States students were safe, including their host families.

The apartment building in which Van Kleeck was staying that night experienced quite of bit of damage.

The building had huge cracks throughout the foundation, broken parts on the ceiling and broken items inside the building, Van Kleeck said.

His host family’s home, where he’d spent most of his time, was undamaged.

However, other students in his program were forced to move because their apartments and houses were declared unsafe, Van Kleeck said.

Van Kleeck said he was not scared of being in a foreign country during an earthquake.

“It was an experience,” said Van Kleeck, who is also the first student from University of La Verne to study abroad in Chile.

Although Van Kleeck felt the earthquake pretty strongly, most of the major destruction was in the south of Chile.

“In Santiago, many of the buildings have lots of structural damage and tons of windows broke, but not much really fell down,” Van Kleeck said.

The earthquake’s destruction has killed 795 people and has caused looting in the hardest hit areas.

Hofer said study abroad students should be aware that things like this could happen. He also said terror attacks and natural disasters are part of our current reality.

“We recommend students go with programs that have plans and knowledge on what to do when a disaster happens,” Hofer said. “We control that a little bit because we don’t allow students to participate in programs that don’t have prepared plans.”

Natalie Veissalov can be reached at natalie.veissalov@laverne.edu.

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