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Earthquake Baptism Saves Chile Family

An extended family was saved from the devastating Chile earthquake of February 27 because they were outside celebrating a child's baptism. An uncle next door, though, did not survive.

© 2010 National Geographic; videographer/field producer: Jorge Lopez Sotomayor



Little Emilia may not know it, but she played a role in the fateful circumstances that saved her family and relatives from serious injury and possibly much worse.

It was her baptism that brought the family together in this picturesque region of Chile for a celebration. A celebration on the night the region would be struck with the worst earthquake in Chile in 50 years.

About 50 miles away in Santa Cruz, the February 27th earthquake knocked a 3-story apartment building down to 2 stories, where 23 people died.

Damage in the region can be seen everywhere you turn.

Lolol is in the heart of Chile’s wine-making region. Grapevines cover much of the landscape.

The Lolol Hacienda, now operated as a restaurant by the Mujica family, was bought in 1891 by Don Mujica and since then his descendent family has grown, now more than a hundred strong.

It was here on February 27th, where the relatives gathered for Emilia’s baptism celebration.

SOUNDBITE: Soledad Ramírez: “The Mujica family always likes to have a good time, because they celebrate everything a lot, grandly. So the christening of young Emilia, for instance, was a marvelous chance to meet here, because only within the family members, you could count 60 or 80 people… and all in a party mood…”

It’s late summer in Chile, and a Friday night. Everyone was outside, eating, drinking and dancing… into the early morning hours. And the 8.8 earthquake struck.

When the shaking stopped, parts of the building behind them had fallen apart. Miraculously, no one was inside.

But next door, an uncle, 64-year-old Nano Mujica, was inside his home. It collapsed on top of him. He did not survive.

SOUNDBITE: Soledad Ramírez : “He was such a warm man, very kind, simple but very honest and real. So yes, it is a real pain of the soul.”

SOUNDBITE: Juan Pablo Mujica : “This earthquake has been very strong here. I believe all these houses, all over this region, were built to resist a certain degree of earthquake. But this one beat it all, in every degree, and destroyed them all. Practically all my cousins, my uncles, my godfathers, they all have lost their houses, they are all living in tents now, and so are all the neighbors.”

SOUNDBITE: Joaquín Mujica : “This is the house where my father raised us seven brothers. I am the fourth one… Here you can appreciate the results of the earthquake in the house… We are a big family, each one has lots of sons, and that has bonded us giving us the strength to keep going. How can I put it, because I am very touched… How can I explain, everyone is helping out, cooperating with all their hearts. “Dad, you have to rebuild the house”, they say, and the brothers agree…”

Now the family is together again--- not for celebration, but to clean up what’s left.

SOUNDBITE: Don Jaime Mujica : “Its been very sad, this thing. We are… well we don’t know what to do. We are left with no house… this house is lost, it is all broken. The roof tiles, if you look at it from the outside, there is not one roof tile in place. This house is through, is over.”

SOUNDBITE: Fernanda Mujica : “I’ve somehow blocked that night … It is the fear, the anguish, so very special. I just wanted Emilia’s baptism to be here, at our house with the little chapel. Because all my family is going to be here, and Emilia is the first great granddaughter. My grandfather was so proud.

SOUNDBITE: Juan Pablo Mujica : “To have lost our cousin Nano… We all got together yesterday, and we had a beautiful mass in his house, in front of the very house that destroyed him, and all the cousins were there, you couldn’t stop saying hi to everyone, it was very emotional. Maybe the house will fall to the floor, but we will still be in love with the place. You can treasure these old big farm houses, but everyone understands these things fall apart sometimes, and when they do, it seems that the family gets even more unified…”

This tight-knit Chilean family has new memories, both sad and joyous. And it has a story to pass to the new generations… about how one little infant, through fate, saved the Mujica’s from an even worse outcome in their country’s devastating earthquake.