Many in Mass. learn relatives safe

By Maria Sacchetti
Globe Staff / March 1, 2010

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Michael Lamb did not worry too much about his little sister, Emily, when she took off in January to a seaside town in Chile for an internship at a marine laboratory. He was confident that the Brown University junior could take care of herself.

Then a powerful earthquake struck Saturday, and the distance between them suddenly became agonizing. Michael’s phone calls to the laboratory went unanswered. Emily did not post anything to Facebook.

“It’s stressful,’’ Michael said in the early afternoon yesterday. “There’s nothing to do but sit and wait.’’

Finally, just before 5 p.m. yesterday, Emily called and said she was safe. Her town had lost electricity, so she hopped a bus to Santiago to borrow a friend’s computer to contact her family via Skype. “Big sigh of relief over here,’’ Michael said in an e-mail.

Dozens of families across Massachusetts were caught up in similar anxieties yesterday as the death toll continued to mount in the South American nation after the massive quake.

Many families received good news - often through the Internet - while others remained unsure.

About 60 people called the local Chilean consulate this weekend in Boston hoping to get information about relatives, coconsul Philip Garber said. About 2,300 Chileans are registered at the consulate, a varied group that includes physicians, cabdrivers, and college students.

“People don’t like it that they can’t contact their relatives,’’ he said.

However, Garber said that in part because of strict building codes in Chile, the death toll and damage are significantly lower than in Haiti, where a 7.0 quake on Jan. 12 is estimated to have killed more than 200,000 people.

Power outages were widespread in Chile, but some people were able to text or e-mail to say that they were fine.

In Massachusetts, their relatives rejoiced at the good news.

“We talked to them,’’ said Carlos Villarroel, owner of La Mamma’s pizzeria in Allston. “They’re all fine, thank God.’’

He said that his father and brother in Santiago are fine, but that his wife’s family’s homes were badly damaged.

Maria Judge of Medford, who runs a nonprofit, breathed in relief when she heard from a childhood friend, Elizabeth, via Facebook, in Santiago. The two had endured the 1965 earthquake together when Judge was a child; her father was a Peace Corps director there.

Angelica Bishop, an 18-year-old high school student at Lawrence Academy in Groton, also received good news.

On Saturday, Bishop told the Globe she was desperate for information about her cousins in Santiago, with whom she lived last summer.

By yesterday, through the Internet and phone calls, she had heard from most of them; all were safe.

“I feel so much more relieved,’’ she said. “I was so scared yesterday.’’

Relief also flooded the Lamb family when members finally heard from Emily, 21, who is from Hingham. Her brothers had worked the phones and Internet for hours: 30-year-old Andrew made calls, 26-year-old Michael scoured the Internet, and Emily’s twin brother, Peter, a student at MIT, waited for word.

In Chile, Emily was unaware of the massive damage in the earthquake because the town she was living in had lost power. She is an intern at the Estación Costera de Investigaciones Marinas, a marine and teaching laboratory in Las Cruces, in central Chile.

Yesterday her brother Michael said he was just glad to hear her voice.

Those who have heard from relatives are turning their efforts to providing relief to Chileans in the quake’s aftermath.

Though the death toll is far lower than in Haiti, Nicole Rojas, a journalism student at Boston University, said Chileans need help.

Yesterday she networked on Twitter and Facebook to organize help for Chile, where she was born.

“People are looting. They’re desperate for food and water in Concepción,’’ a city near the epicenter, she said. “It is major. They do need our help.’’