Messages from Chile tell of experiences during 8.8 earthquake

Sister Lisa Laycock, wife of Chile Santiago East Mission President Larry Laycock, sent an e-mail to family and friends about the earthquake that hit the country on Feb. 27. She asked that her message be shared “in hopes it may inspire others.” Here are excerpts from her e-mail:

“I am writing to let you all know how very grateful we are for your prayers, concern, and love. Please keep praying! We need the Lord’s help and guidance in order to do all He would have us do to learn what He would have us learn from this earthquake tragedy, and to minister in the way He would have us minister. During the past few days, we have witnessed many events which serve to remind us that the Lord is in charge and that as missionaries and members of His church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are performing His work, and as President [Thomas S.] Monson teaches, ‘When we are on the Lord’s errand, we are entitled to His help.’ I want to share with you a few miracles that will help you to understand our profound feelings of gratitude.

“When we were set apart for this calling, Elder [Richard G.] Scott of the [Council] of the Twelve Apostles taught us many important lessons. He spoke from personal experience when he was a mission president in Argentina. One message that he shared with us is this: ‘At times, during your mission, you will be awakened in the middle of the night or the early morning hours with thoughts of specific things you should do for certain missionaries. Do not ignore these thoughts. They are promptings from the Holy Ghost who will communicate with you in the stillness of the night or the peace of the early morning hours. He will speak to you then because that is when you are still enough to hear.’ Elder Scott further instructed us to keep a notebook beside our bed so that we could record these precious promptings. He said that by the next morning, we would be likely to forget the promptings if we didn’t write them down.

“We have been astonished at the fulfillment of Elder Scott’s prophetic words. We have received many promptings in the exact manner that Elder Scott described. We are so thankful that Elder Scott taught us how to recognize and act upon these precious promptings. Had he not taught us, we may not have given these promptings the attention they require.

“Nearly two and one half weeks [before the earthquake], I was awakened at around 4 a.m. by just such a prompting. I did not hear a voice, but the thought was as clear as if it had been in the form of spoken words: ‘There is going to be an earthquake. Prepare your missionaries.’ I sat up in bed and immediately remembered Elder Scott’s counsel. That morning I told Larry what had happened. He immediately set to work organizing our missionaries to prepare for an earthquake.

“In talking with our office missionaries to arrange for them to put together a list of everything we would need to prepare…in both Spanish and English…we discovered that the Lord had also let two of our office missionaries know of the possibility of an earthquake (in the form of dreams) and the need to prepare our mission. We set a goal and arranged our schedule so that we could visit every apartment in the mission to check for safety and to review with our missionaries what to do in case of an earthquake. What a wonderful experience we have had as we have met with them and shared scriptures with them about being spiritually and physically prepared. ‘…if ye are prepared, ye shall not fear’ (D&C 38:30). We instructed every missionary to have a “go-bag” (36 hour kit). We reviewed our emergency action plan with them of where to go and what to do if they had phone service and in case they did not. We gave everyone a paper with all instructions in English and Spanish, and we reminded them that ‘this life is the time to prepare to meet God’ (Alma 34:32-34). We shared with them our thoughts and feelings about the need for spiritual and physical safety. Some of them became frightened and asked us if we knew something they didn’t know. We smiled and repeated ‘…if ye are prepared, ye shall not fear.’ We didn’t want to unduly alarm them, but we did want to impress upon them the need to be prepared. We tearfully reminded them of our recent transfer conference where we had shared our feelings about our dear Elder McKay Burrows who was unexpectedly called home in January while serving his mission in Romania…how he was prepared in every way to meet God. We reissued our challenge to ‘be prepared’ in every way. Then we knelt with them in their apartment and dedicated each apartment, asking for a blessing of safety and security to be upon every apartment.

“When the earthquake came, we were prepared. We did not experience the panic that many felt. We knew we were prepared. Because of the words of the Lord’s chosen apostle, Elder Scott, we had listened and heeded the quiet, but clear promptings of the Holy Ghost. We were blessed with peace in the midst of chaos. We learned an important lesson: our preparation helped us to avoid panic and fear, but the Lord, in His wisdom, allowed us to experience enough discomfort to know that He has all power. He is in charge. We are nothing without Him. We are dependent upon Him for every breath we take. Only He can save us from death and destruction. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He is our perfect example. If we follow Him, we will be saved through obedience to the laws and ordinances of His Gospel.

“As the earthquake became more violent, the mission home groaned and wailed. The power died, so the whole city was black. The windows made a hideous screeching sound, and flying objects banged against swaying walls. The printer/fax machine, books, book ends, and fifty-pound television burst from the entertainment center and crashed to the floor, cabinets emptied, drawers flew open, the refrigerator moved, water sloshed out of the toilets, the floor jolted up and down as we ran across it trying to hold onto the walls to keep from falling down, and the piano toppled over like a small toy. As we made our way to the back yard, I remember thinking, ‘God is all-powerful. He is our only refuge from this horrible mess.’ I prayed and prayed for Him to still the earth. When we reached the back yard, we watched in terror. By the light of the moon we could see the swimming pool water form giant waves and crash out onto the rocks. House and car alarms screamed into the night…some from being crushed by falling debris and others I guess from the bizarre movement of the earth. I am not sure if the intense rumbling sounds came from the earth itself or from everything else that was shaking so violently. Finally, it stopped. When the calm came, we had to sit down because our legs were weak and unstable. My legs stayed wobbly all day and night yesterday. Today (Feb. 28) the muscles in my legs hurt like I ran a marathon. The aftershocks have been extremely unsettling. Each one begins like the one last night started. We just close our eyes and wait to see if it escalates or dies down. I have never experienced anything like this!

“We were awakened this morning by a very strong after shock….

“Today, we attended a strong ward where [President Laycock] was invited to speak. The entire chapel and beyond was filled. People were so humble and so teachable. [He] taught the importance of doing the small things. He taught about Jesus Christ and the opportunity we have to love one another and to share what we have with others. It was a great blessing for us to be with these beautiful Chilean people. Some have lost their homes…or at least parts of their homes. But they are strong and they want to serve the Lord. He taught of the scripture in Luke 21:11,13 which says, ‘and great earthquakes shall be in divers places…and it shall turn to you for a testimony.’ He also welcomed the sweet young woman who was in the congregation with the missionaries…her first time attending church…and then [from the pulpit] he invited her to be baptized. He asked her to please invite us to her baptism, and she said, “I will.” The Lord always knows what His people need. [Our son] Landon was reading in Alma 15:17 today. He said, ‘Mom listen to this. This is what is happening here in Chile just like in happened in Ammonihah. The people were humbled and “checked as to the pride of their hearts and began to humble themselves before God, watching and praying continually that they might be delivered from Satan, and from death, and from destruction.”‘

“Our hearts are filled to the brim with gratitude for all of the blessings we have received in the Chile Santiago East Mission. We see miracles every day. In the midst of great pain and suffering, we can always find our Savior. He stands with His arms open, pleading for all of us to humble ourselves and come unto Him. He loves us. He invites us to accept His gift…the Atonement. He invites us to repent. He wants us to love one another and to serve one another. He wants us to bring our families and those we love to Him. We can do it. We can do all that He asks, no matter how difficult it may seem. ‘With God all things are possible.’…

“We are having a devotional tomorrow (March 1) for all of our missionaries to talk about the last week of Christ’s life in preparation for Easter. We want to remind our missionaries to teach and preach with increased vigor and ‘animo’ of Christ. …”

Even as Church members in Chile take their maiden steps of recovery following a massive earthquake on Saturday, Feb. 27, many are recalling the horror of experiencing one of the strongest recorded temblors in history. The following accounts were collected by Church News contributor Laurie Williams Sowby. Sister Sowby and her husband, Stephen Sowby, served in the Chile Santiago West Mission from October 2005 to April 2007. They are now serving in the Washington D.C. South Mission.

“We lived on the fifth/top floor of an apartment building in Talagante, in the countryside about an hour southwest of Santiago,” she said. “We recall feeling minor quakes many times, two of them strong enough that we could feel the building swaying. Among our assignments was teaching the Church’s basic keyboard music classes, one of them in the in the Penaflor Stake Center. We have many dear friends in that part of Chile and were relieved to hear from many of them via Facebook and e-mail that they are all right. We have been touched by their accounts of feeling peace, guidance, and our Heavenly Father’s love in the midst of their terror.”

Here are some quotes Sister Sowby forwarded to the Church News.

Carmen Luz Ramos Lastres lives about an hour southwest of Santiago in the Talagante Branch of the Talagante District:

“Thanks to God, all of us are okay. The movement of the earth was terrible. I have been in several earthquakes over the course of my life, but this surpasses anything expected.

“[During the quake] I walked to the door of my house to open it and be in a safe place. The ground was moving up and down, like the movements of a boat.

“We found comfort knowing that our Father in Heaven loves us and protects us.”

Eighteen-year-old Susana Fuentes lives in Penaflor, a town south of Santiago:

“I was awakened by the rumblings and jumped in bed with my sisters to wait for the shaking to stop. My older sister said it would be wise to move under the door as a precaution. We all held hands and moved to a place outside on the patio where we would not be hit by any falling objects.

“We could see the cars on the road moving and going up and down. I prayed that God would help us and protect my family and all who needed Him.

“I remained calm. The floor was moving from one side to the other like a wave.”

Rosa Becerra lives in a two-story home with her family south of Santiago.

“We did not suffer [much] damage or loss. We have sufficient food and water because we were prepared.”

Credit: Associated Press

Sister Cheryl Lyon, Santiago Chile Temple matron:

What a joy to walk into the temple (early Saturday morning) and find it in perfect condition. We just had to close a few drawers and straighten a few pictures. It felt so good to be there in that peaceful refuge and find normality. (The statue of the angel) Moroni did lose his trumpet, however. That was the only noticeable damage.

My husband (Santiago Chile Temple President Ted Lyon) has quoted 3 Nephi 11:2, after the terrible quaking and destruction. The people gathered ’round about the temple … marveling and wondering one with another….’ That’s exactly what happened (on Saturday morning), as we all evacuated our temple patron housing building — couple missionaries, young MTC missionaries, temple patrons, as well as missionary couples from adjacent buildings. They all gathered round about to comfort one another, and certainly to marvel! …

We had to decide what to do about the temple. We had every session booked for the day, and wondered if people would arrive. We met with one of the (temple presidency) counselors — who had arrived at 5 a.m. for the early shift, as faithful as ever — and our registrar. We knew it would be difficult for the employees and workers to get to the temple and there was electricity at the time. One faithful laundry sister came a great distance to help, but there was no gas for the dryers, so she had baptismal clothes from (Friday) night lying all over the laundry.

The temple has an emergency generator that roars into action the second the power goes out. But we learned that it runs on petroleum that lasts only four hours. By 8 a.m., we knew we were about to go dark again, so we made the decision to simply close the temple for the day. Then, just in the second that the lights began to dim, the power came back on! We’ve learned since then that we’re the only section in Santiago that had power at that time.

We decided to hold just one session, since we had three out-of-town couples staying in the (patron housing) who were expecting to receive their endowments and be sealed (Saturday morning). We mustered all the missionary couples, along with a group of faithful sisters who work the late shift on Fridays and then stay over for the Saturday morning shift.

We had a most moving morning. The quake had brought such a sense of unity to workers and patrons, and the Spirit was amazing. I’ve seldom had such a moving experience (in the temple) — with three consecutive young sisters receiving their endowments.

Larry and Lynda Benson, who served in Chile Santiago East Mission, 2008-2009 — working in area welfare, the Santiago Chile Temple and teaching keyboard — forwarded two e-mails they received from two LDS women in Santiago:

Guillermina Guerra, Pocuro Ward Primary president:

“For a moment, we thought total destruction was coming. It is difficult to be able to describe. In that moment, we thought only to pray to our Father in Heaven. In Santiago, there are many apartments with structural damage, especially the new ones.

“Many people don’t have food now that the supermarkets have been closed. It is then when the members remember the welfare plan that is inspired of God in order to protect us. We have our emergency things that helped us and will greatly help us. ‘And if ye are prepared, ye shall not fear.’

“We didn’t have light, and communication was cut off. Perhaps that was what frightened us the most, not knowing about our families who live far away. We are very blessed. The Father protected us and we know that our families are OK. We are sad for our brothers and sisters of South Concepcion, Talca, Curico, Talcahuano, Ysla Juan Fernandez, in general the regions of Maule y El Bio Bio. They were the most devastated. We are praying for our country and preparing to help those who need us. We are becoming calm little by little, developing much faith to have peace and tranquility in this natural disaster.”

Ana M. Torres Henriquez, Nuñoa 3rd Ward Relief Society president:

“Nothing happened to our house. We just lost some dishes and the TV, which fell with the motion. More than anything else was the impression and the fright because it seemed like the movement of the earthquake was eternal; it never quit. I experienced the earthquake of 1985 in Valparaiso, which was the epicenter. It was terrible, but I think that this one was worse because besides the movement of the earth, it was combined with the various tidal waves and therefore was worse.

“The rest of my family in Valparaiso and Santiago are OK, but my brother and his family live in Talcahuano, near the epicenter of the earthquake. My brother was devastated. I could feel it in his voice when we succeeded in communicating with him. It was very difficult to accomplish that. The integrity of the house is OK but they lost everything inside the house. Now they are without water and light and they don’t know long they will be able to live with the provisions they have. We are taking measures for them to come to Santiago or to go get them. We will see what we can do. … We are quite worried about them. We have not been able to communicate with them again, so we pray that they are still OK.

“It has been a great blow for all, an event of much reflection. Chile is a country of many earthquakes but I think this has been devastating. I know that God has protected us but at the same time, I think perhaps it is a reminder to put many things in order and I hope that people in general will think about all this in order to improve and put in order their lives.

“Polonia, Ana, Juan Carlos and their respective families are all OK.”

If you would like to share your experiences during the earthquake that struck Chile on Feb. 27 or what your experiences while watching for tsunamis that were forecast as possibilities in the aftermath of the temblor, please send an e-mail to [email protected]