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Chile: The House Pedro Built
Surviving one of the biggest earthquakes in history



Rafael Valdeavellano is a Guatemalan filmmaker with Chile in his heart, where he has lived for the past 12 years. He has extensive documentary and reporting experience. In 2006 he founded La Ventana Cine, a Santiago-based production company focused on telling stories that emphasize the value of human life.

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Length: 8:24

Even before February 27, 2010, Chileans were well aware of the devastating power of an earthquake. In the past century alone, there have been two dozen earthquakes that have caused significant damage, including a 9.5 magnitude earthquake that struck the southern city of Valdivia in 1960. It is still the strongest earthquake ever recorded.

This seismic history has led to rigorous construction and safety regulations and a population well versed in evacuation procedures.

But even with such awareness, when the latest quake struck in the middle of the night in late February, it set in motion one of the greatest natural catastrophes this country has ever faced. Not only did the earthquake still manage to destroy thousands of buildings, it triggered a tsunami, leaving almost 500 dead and more than 2 million Chileans affected in some way.

Twelve days later, on March 11, the country inaugurated Sebastian Pinera as the new president. There's still debate over whether or not the National Emergency Office and the Armed Forces responded adequately. Both the former government of president Michelle Bachelet and the new administration of president Pinera stand by their post-emergency relief efforts. Ironically, a 6.9 magnitude aftershock disrupted the presidential inauguration, which many news outlets televised around the world.

But the disaster also demonstrated the extraordinary solidarity of the Chilean people. Neighborhoods came together to collect and caravan supplies to the damaged regions, particularly the hard-hit rural areas in the south, creating a chain of citizen aid throughout the country. They also raised almost $60 million in a national telethon. All of these efforts were organized under the slogan "Chile ayuda a Chile" (Chile aids Chile).

The earthquake struck toward the end of summer, and Chileans set themselves a goal of building 45,000 "mediaguas" -- Chile's temporary wooden relief shelters -- before the rains set in. On May 20, they reached that goal.

What is remarkable about this achievement is that more than half of those were built by volunteers. Men, women, college students and teenagers, along with the military, put together the mediaguas that today shelter approximately 50,000 families -- including Pedro's.

This is his story.

-- Rafael Valdeavellano

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