After earthquake, UI students safe in Chile


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When Luke Mescher felt the floor trembling under his feet, he had no doubt what was occurring.

The University of Iowa senior said his bed started “wobbling like crazy” while the windows shook and his belongings fell off the tables and walls of his host home in Chile.

“My only thoughts were, ‘Oh shit, it’s an earthquake. I need to get out of this building,’ ” the anthropology major said via Skype on Monday.

Mescher was preparing to begin a semester of intensive Spanish in Santiago, Chile, when an 8.8 magnitude earthquake struck the country’s southern coast on Feb. 27.

Mescher said his host mother came running out of her room, yelling and on the verge of tears, with his host sister clinging onto her in fear. He grabbed a light and told his host family they needed to leave.

“I didn’t even bother with shirt or shoes,” Mescher said. “I just wanted to get out as fast as possible.”

The first of many large after-shocks struck just as they walked back into the building an hour later, and Mescher said he was ready to run back outside. But the shaking stopped, and he stayed put.

Mescher is one of 10 UI undergraduate students studying abroad in Chile this semester, all of whom are safe, said Janis Perkins, the director of the Office of Study Abroad.

None of the students were studying in the areas most affected by the earthquake.

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The Office of Study Abroad has established emergency procedures for students abroad, which include attending to their immediate needs and removing all other students from danger. These didn’t kick in last week, because none of the students were abroad through a UI-administered program.

According to the Institute of International Education, Chile was the 19th most popular study-abroad destination during the 2007-08 school year. Several universities, including the University of Colorado-Boulder, reported that their students were safe on their websites.

Though Chile has seen a number of large earthquakes in recent history, last week’s was one of the worst, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

UI Assistant Professor Roberto Ampuero has experienced two Chilean earthquakes in the past and has family in the central part of Chile, which was unaffected by the quake.

“I know how scary they are and how terrible the aftermath can be,” Ampuero said. “After a mega-earthquake like that, you have a conviction that life is very fragile and that everything can change in seconds.”

Others on the UI campus have family in Chile, too. Six students from Chile are enrolled at the UI this semester, said Scott King, the director of the UI Office of International Students and Scholars.

Mauricio Monsalve, a first-year graduate student, heard about the earthquake striking his home country from one of his professors at 7 a.m.. An e-mail from his brother informed him that his parents were fine.

But Monsalve is still unsure about the rest of his family, which includes many cousins and uncles in Chile. No one has heard from one of his uncles since the quake, and Monsalve said he thinks he may have been near the epicenter.

“I just hope that our country recovers fast,” he said in an e-mail.

The Office of International Students and Scholars sent an e-mail to the on-campus Chileans offering any assistance.

Ampuero said he plans on going to Chile over spring break to volunteer in anyway he can.

“When you hear news like this, you want to be there and help the people who have suffered,” he said. “This is a time where people and nations come together to help a good cause.”

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