Shaken: UVA grad reports from Chile

news-alex-fitzsimmonsAlexandra Fitzsimmons may not be able to return to Concepcion, where she teaches English.

Like most people in Chile, Alexandra Fitzsimmons was asleep when one of the largest temblors ever recorded rumbled to life at 3:34am. As her bed slid across the room as if inside a ship rocked during a storm, she pretty quickly realized that it wasn't a dream.

"We're very lucky," says Fitzsimmons, 25, in a telephone interview from a friend's apartment on a seventh floor in Santiago. There are cracks in the ceiling and chunks of drywall that have fallen out, but from the outside, she says,"You'd have no idea anything happened."

Fitzsimmons considers herself particularly fortunate because she's usually in Concepci³n, near the quake's epicenter; and the situation there, where she lives and teaches English, is so much worse. Concepci³n is under martial law, with a 9am-to-6pm curfew, she says.

"People are in the streets, and it's very congested," she says. "I don't know if I will return."

The 2006 UVA grad had been away for two weeks on vacation when the ground violently shifted early Saturday, February 27.

"I was planning on taking the bus to Concepci³n on Sunday," says Fitzsimmons, who traveled 35 minutes south of Santiago on February 28 before a collapsed bridge halted her journey. She can't immediately leave, either, as the airport is closed to international flights.

Despite the anxiety caused by the dozens of aftershocks, Fitzsimmons, who majored in foreign affairs at UVA, is relieved she's in a country with "an earthquake culture." The largest quake ever recorded occurred in Chile, a 1960 megathrust registering 9.5 on the Richter scale.

"The building code is very strict here," Fitzsimmons notes, which is why so many buildings remain standing–- unlike Haiti, where the January earthquake was far weaker, yet produced a death toll, estimated at 230,000, far higher.

And although she's lived in a world earthquake capital for almost a year, last weekend was not Fitzsimmons' first tremor. That, she says, happened in Charlottesville in 2006, "my senior year."

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