World

Chile earthquake: A survivor's tale

All tragedies have heroes and this story has two. They are cousins, with similar names; one is alive, the other was swallowed by the sea.

Osvaldo Gonzalez, 46, was with his family on a small island on the mouth of the Maule River, just off the seaside resort of Constitucion. Orrego Island was a natural paradise, nicknamed "Cancun" by the people of Constitucion. The Gonzalez family -- about 100 of them, what with the cousins, siblings, wives and children -- had been in that paradise since December.

When an 8.8 earthquake shook Chile in the dead of night Saturday morning, Osvaldo didn't know what to expect, but instinct told him it would not be a good idea to remain on the island. He quickly ushered his relatives aboard his boat with an outboard engine, at least as many as the craft could hold, for the ride to Constitucion.

He made a second trip, then a third. They were short shuttles, 10 minutes long, but in the darkness of night and on a surging river they seemed interminable.

On the last trip he managed to make, Gonzalez crossed paths with his cousin Osvaldo Gomez, 37, who had taken another boat to help him with the rescue.

"I never imagined what was about to happen," he said, still shaking.

Once on the shore of Constitucion, Gonzalez tried to return to the island but couldn't start the engine. The boat didn't move. Underneath it, he could see mud and stones because the river had suddenly disappeared, as if the sea had sucked it back.

Seconds later, the river returned in the form of a tidal wave more than 30 feet high. The last image Gonzalez had of his cousin was the sight of Gomez's boat on the crest of that wave, an image that snapped as Gonzalez ran through the streets of Constitucion and up a hill in desperation.

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