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Seaside villagers lost homes and livelihoods in Chile quake

By Sara Sidner, CNN
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Town hammered by tsunami
  • Bellamira Neira lost home in seaside village of Penco
  • Sea swallowed home, medication, and husband's livelihood
  • Residents say no help has arrived in village since quake and tsunami hit

Concepcion, Chile (CNN) -- Bellamira Neira sits staring at the belongings that chronicle a lifetime, sprawled out on the sand for any stranger to see.

Just three days ago she, her husband, two sons and in-laws were all living side by side in small colorful huts on the seashore.

They didn't have much, but they made their living off the sea and lived by the seashore together, and that was enough.

But all their homes were snatched from them in a series of natural disasters all in one day.

First an 8.8-magnitude earthquake shook them awake. A few hours later a series of three waves slammed into their homes knocking the already damaged houses around like they were toddlers' toys.

"I tell myself the only reason I am thankful is that I am healthy and I am alive," Neira said.

I tell myself the only reason I am thankful is that I am healthy and I am alive
--Bellamira Neira
  • Chile

In her life, that hasn't always been the case. She suffers from depression. She is worried because the sea swallowed her medication, along with her husband's livelihood.

"I lost my materials, my scuba diving gear, the nets, my boat is missing," her fisherman husband Jose Araya Rojas said.

The family is surrounded by others just like them. Their homes are smashed together at strange angles. Their boats are swimming in the sand or protruding into homes, instead of bobbing up and down at sea.

All the residents are fending for themselves because they say no help has arrived since the quake and tsunami hit. They live in a town called Penco about 11 kilometers from the city of Concepcion.

In Concepcion, the army has moved in to try to scare off looters who you see sporadically in groups sneaking into stores through broken glass windows or small openings in shuttered shops.

Here at least the firefighters are helping residents. We see one firehouse with a small blow-up swimming pool filled with water. Firefighters helped residents scoop it into jugs.

Water and electricity are still unavailable in and around the area. Gasoline is available but so scarce that people are pushing their cars inch by inch as they approach the gas stations. Dozens stand in line with jugs waiting to fill up.

Compared to other disasters such as the Haiti earthquake this year and the Southeast Asia tsunami of 2004, the death toll and damage is nowhere near as extensive. The loss of life is measured in the hundreds, not tens of thousands.

But on a human level, when you talk to people, their eyes filled with confusion, their mouths telling stories of loss, you realize comparing the depth of human suffering is foolish. Pain and loss cannot be measured.