Tom Fingar reports from Santiago

DSCN0381TOM FINGAR, an alum and a fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, was in the Chilean capital of Santiago when the Feb. 27 earthquake struck. Fingar, former chairman of the National Intelligence Council, has spent winter quarter teaching Bing Overseas Studies Program students in Chile “Global Issues, Local Politics and American Foreign Policy” and “How to Analyze National Security Issues.” Here are excerpts from Fingar’s first-person narrative sent shortly after the quake:

“My wife, Orlene, and I were awakened by the quake at about 3:30 in the morning. I had gone to bed about two hours earlier after watching the Canada-Slovakia hockey game (the Olympics are on very late here) so [I] was pretty deeply asleep.

“We knew instantly what was going on and … sprang from bed immediately and went to the small interior hallway under a doorframe. We have been in several earthquakes in California and Taiwan, but none this strong or of such duration. The main shock lasted more than a minute … but [it] seemed much longer. We held one another and the doorframe to keep from losing our balance. Our fourth floor apartment was pitching and rolling like a small boat in rough seas.”

The Fingars’ 11-floor building was relatively undamaged. When the shaking stopped, the couple quickly dressed and walked downstairs to the street, where their neighbors were gathering:

“People were in various states of dress, wearing everything from pajamas to jeans and jackets. Happily, it was warmer than it ha[d] been for the past week. Electricity appeared to be out in all directions. We heard many sirens in the first minutes after the quake but then things quieted down. … The only news of what was happening came from car radios. … Our Spanish is not very good, so we had to rely on others to relay information. There wasn’t much, but we did learn the magnitude of the quake and that it was centered near Concepcion. …

“After about an hour, the electricity came on. [At this moment Fingar wrote his narrative was interrupted by one of dozens of aftershocks.] People began to go back into the building. The hallways were filled with dust from plaster and stucco that had fallen.”

Fingar spent the next two hours trying fruitlessly to reach the center’s director IVAN JAKSIC and staff by phone. He finally got through to IVAN TAPIA, the academic and student services coordinator, and found out that most of the students in the program were OK.

According to Fingar, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and President-elect Sebastian Pinera are saying the right thing in terms of urging people to be calm and affirming that both administrations will work together; the handover of power is scheduled to take place in mid-March.

My bottom line is that I commend the staff of the center here for the way they acted to contact students and to inform the [Bing Overseas Studies Program] folks in California. [I] feel fortunate that my wife and I are uninjured and sustained no property damage, and [I] am extremely saddened by the plight of the many people who have suffered much greater losses elsewhere in the country.”

—Lisa Trei