Social networking site turns into network of support for Chilean people

Scarborough residents unable to reach their families have turned to the Internet following the Feb. 27 earthquake in Chile.

Victoria Romero-Araya, one of the 40,000 Chilean-Canadians, has relatives in Chile and uses Facebook to keep her friends updated on her family members and events in the devastated country.

“Even though I’m not there with them, I can just picture it,” Romero-Araya said. “You can’t help but worry for them, even if you know they’re OK.”

It’s a way of connecting with people, as her friends show support by commenting on her statuses of “R.I.P. 723” and “Keeping my family in mind,” she said.

She created a photo album of the aftermath in her hometown, illustrating the situation of the ravaged country.

The pictures taken by her mom’s friend, who had posted them on his Facebook page, show piles of dishes scattered on the floor, a crumbled brick wall at a soccer field, a tumbled-down water tower, and houses with collapsed roofs.

The deadly quake was larger than the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti earlier this year. Many places in Chile have no electricity and water, while people sleep on the streets.

Large cracks run through roads, with some areas caved in, and parts of highway bridges have broken off completely.

Romero-Araya said she was working an overnight shift when her father called at 4:30 a.m. to tell her about the earthquake.

“In my mind, I was just like, ‘Is everybody OK? How’s everyone doing?’,” Romeo-Araya said.

Her mom constantly made phone calls trying to get hold of relatives, and Saturday at 5:30 a.m. finally reached her grandma, but the phone connection was lost after four minutes. Her uncle called a few hours later to tell them no one was hurt, but they had “lost everything.”

Romero-Araya found her older sister was all right through a Facebook message she sent. She has many relatives in Chile and learned they were fine through the few people they were able to contact.

“It’s that moment of relief, when you know that they’re OK, nothing happened to them,” Romero-Araya said.

The International Federation of Red Cross released a disaster response emergency fund of $300,000 and has sent out a preliminary appeal, while they continue to assess the situation and respond to requests from the Chilean government. They estimate Chile won’t likely need as much international aid as Haiti because it has resources to better deal with a disaster.

Romero-Araya has already donated to the Red Cross and has changed her profile picture on Facebook. It’s a photo of an unknown man standing among heaps of rubble holding a torn, dirt-covered Chilean flag that reads “FUERZA CHILE!” meaning “have strength.”

She found the photo on the Internet, and the image was emotionally “powerful,” as she saw it as a sign of hope and encouragement to stay strong, Romero-Araya said.