Chilean woman wonders what she’ll find on return home Sunday

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DIXFIELD — Carla Bontá of Bethel isn’t sure what to expect when she returns home Sunday to Santiago, Chile, 15 days after a major earthquake struck there last month.

The waitress, who just finished her second winter of work at Sunday River Ski Resort in Newry, said Wednesday at her boyfriend’s grandmother’s house that her family and their house in Santiago’s Quinta Normal neighborhood were all OK.

“I do not think you can comprehend it until you actually see the damage,” she said of the 8.8-magnitude quake that struck on Feb. 27 just off Chile’s coast, 205 miles southwest of Santiago. It affected more than 2 million people and left more than 700 dead as of March 2, according to the United Nations News Service.

Bontá said the first quake damage she will see will be at Santiago Airport, whether she arrives by bus or plane.

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“All the ceiling fell, and it is heavily damaged,” she said.

She didn’t know whether the 12-hour flight from New York would end in Chile or hours away in Argentina.

“I was told they will put us in buses,” said Bontá, 24, sitting on a couch beside boyfriend Alex Bronish, 20, of Bethel. “We had a friend over from Chile and he was in Peru four days trying to get to Chile.”

Bontá’s mother told her the earthquake destroyed their drinking glasses, mirrors, a statue and Carla’s television set, and left her dog very frightened.

“My mom said it was pretty scary,” Bontá said. “Now, every time I talk to my mom, she says (the ground) is shaking. It is shaking every hour.”

According to the U. S. Geological Survey, more than 122 aftershocks of 5.0-magnitude or higher have rattled the country. Eight have been 6.0 or greater.

The quake also destroyed a bridge overpass near Bontá’s home. But she wasn’t as worried as her boyfriend, who will join her in Chile in May when his business classes end at University College at Rumford/Mexico.

When the Feb. 27 earthquake struck at 3 a.m. Chile time, Bontá was asleep, said Alex Bronish, who was working at the Newry ski hill.

His dad, Steve Bronish, a NewPage Inc. paper mill worker in Rumford, called both Alex and daughter Abigail, alerting them to the quake.

“I was freaking out and trying to get my dad to go to Bethel and talk to her, because we have no phone there,” Alex Bronish said. “I was almost in tears.”

Abigail Bronish, who said she was equally frightened, was checking Internet sites, hoping to catch Bontá online to alert her.

“The first reports I was seeing on MSN said that it was 10 times more powerful than the one that hit Haiti, and I’m like, ‘Oh, my God,’” Abigail Bronish said, referring to Haiti’s 7.0-magnitude earthquake on Jan. 12 that left more than 222,000 people dead.

“We were more nervous than she was,” said Steve Bronish, when he arrived at the couple’s home in Bethel and awakened Bontá.

“I finally contacted her at 11 a.m. and she said (earthquakes) happen all the time there,” Alex Bronish said of his girlfriend. “But I told her, ‘This one’s bad. You’ve got to call your mom.’”

She did and reached her within the hour.

“In comparison with Haiti, we were way more prepared. We shake all the time,” Bontá said. “Every 10 years, we’ve had a big earthquake, but we haven’t had any since 1985, and everyone knew there was going to be a big one.”

The February quake was the biggest since a 9.5-magnitude earthquake devastated the country in the 1960s.

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

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