Jorge Bawlitza, managing director of EntrerÃos Farmsa partnership of four family growers that produce our fair trade blueberriesgives his moving account of the aftermath of Saturday´s earthquake. Jorge lives in Linares, only 70km from the quake’s epicentre.
Saturday, 27 February
At about 3.30am we felt it the fifth-biggest catastrophe in recorded history. Millions of people in Chile’s Central Valley woke up and thought only of the most important things to them their children, parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters. For two minutes, millions of people were transformed into one heart. A few minutes after the big tremor came the silence, and new thoughts entered our minds: our extended family, the neighbors, friends. We only had a few moments to cry, and then it was time to assess the house.
Without electricity and without water, we separate what is disorder from what is structural damage. Fortunately, my house is still standing. My wife, a doctor, finds a first-aid kit, and is ready to take necessary action. We go to see our workers and their families who live on the farm; about 30 people in total. Everybody is alive and without injury. The women stay together to take care of the kids. The men, we enter the farmhouses and the cooling and packing facilities to evaluate the damage. Everything is OK a tribute to my father, an engineer, who built all the houses on the farm, the coldstore and the packhouse.
There is no water, no electricity, no telephone and no radio. It is impossible to call anyone, and then we realise that we are alone. Everybody is alone. There is silence in the air. We know something big has happened, but how big? And where? I take the hand of my wife and my daughter and I thank God. I ask myself what mission he has for me and why in this disaster I have been so lucky. It´s time to rest and feel the warm breath of my daughter. We are alive. The epicentre was about 70km south of Linares, where I live.
Later, the sun shines. In the car, we listen to Argentinean radio. They talk about the earthquake and how they could feel it in Buenos Aires and Patagonia. And slowly, there is some information from Chile. The epicentre is near Concepción. Our account manager lives there and we still don´t know anything about him and his family. I go to visit the nearest family. At about 11am, I´m able to communicate for a few seconds with my brothers all of them are OK and they tell me that my parents and other people I know are OK too. I lose the connection.
We start to organise communication by word of mouth. Unfortunately, we hear about an aunt and her employee who died under the rubble. We see the city destroyed, many old houses made of adobe, the churches, the roads, the bridges all destroyed or in a bad way. We have mineral water in the office, so we share it with our neighbours, friends and family because we know we won´t have water or electricity for some days. A small local radio at the church is able to transmit using an electric generator. At this moment, we realise that communication is down across the entire country.
The voices on the radio try to transmit calm to the public. We thank them for their efforts. The day passes rapidly. Without electricity, the day ends when the sun goes down. As I´m writing, a new tremor reminds me that these movements have been ongoing since the earthquake. Every tremor reminds me of what is important. My daughter is playing in the farm dining room together with all our workers’ kids.
Sunday, 28 February
Sunday is almost like any other Sunday, although by now we´ve had two near sleepless nights and we continue without communication, without water and without electricity. We wait nervously and try not to waste water, food or fuel. At midday, we start to hear on the radio about the impact in small villages near to Linares as well as Linares itself. According to the information, there are still a lot of people in need and many people that can´t reach their families in other parts of the region or other regions in Chile. We start to become more worried about what has happened to our workers.
In the afternoon, we begin to hear on the radio that the news in the rest of the region is also bad, but there are no details. I am sure the people living outside of Chile have more information about what is happening than we do. We go to the local radio station to transmit a message to our workers and let them know that our operations are OK. We also want to find out about them, their families and their houses.
Monday, 1 March
About 60 people turn up to work. We get a clearer understanding of what they need: some go back to their houses because they have to take care of their kids; then we realise just how in need they are, especially because of the lack of food; most of our workers who have damaged houses have problems with their roofs. We realise that our other workers must have even greater problems because they couldn´t come to work.
Wow, the electricity arrives, together with the water. Good news! But still no television or telephone yet. We make a new announcement on the local radio to thank the people that could come to work and express our concern about those people who couldn´t come because we imagine they are in a worse condition. We tell our workers that the bus to pick them up will pass by the same places as usual and we invite them to bring their kids to work if they have no safe places to leave them.
At the same time, we start to look for food, plastic and roofing materials to give to the people. We create a volunteer technical team to analyse the needs for each case and visit all the houses. Many people start to confirm that they will come to work with their kids.
During the night, the telephone and television come back on. I speak with my father. The images on television are striking. There´s a lot of destruction. We hear about the crime people taking all they can find at the supermarkets. Fortunately, we haven´t seen anything like this in Linares. We just see support, concern and solidarity honest working people, even those who´ve lost their homes. We give thanks for our health, work and look to the future.
Tuesday, 2 March
Around 150 workers arrive with their kids and other relatives. During the day, more people turn up with their families and bring food for everyone. We continue to provide food while we have it, but shortages are rapidly increasing. We´re already supporting about 200 workers. We continue with our improvised social survey, asking workers about their situation.
Some answer in great detail about their fears and with sad faces remember the broken plates, glasses, windows and televisions. Others say they and their families are well and express a strange sense of tranquillity and serenity. How can such a disaster bring out the best in people? These people, still so calm and serene after losing everything, carry on working like always they are happy to be working. We realise that even though they told us: Yes, we are all well, thank God!, their houses have been badly damaged and another family has had to give them help and a roof over their heads.
I think, how can I these people’s boss, with a stable house, food and a daughter sleeping warm learn from the wisdom and integrity of these people who have lost their homes? How can I work with these eyes of wisdom? What disaster must I experience to earn the wisdom that will allow me to appreciate what´s important in each moment? I thank God that God exists.
Another tremor. I lose my concentration. I want to be with my daughter. We still don´t know anything about our farm in Cauquenes, which is nearer to the epicentre. We still don´t know about our account manager and his family who live in Concepción.
Wednesday, 3 March
We visit the farm in Cauquenes. Thank God, all the workers on the farm are alive. There is, of course, a lot of material damage to the houses and so on, but the biggest problem is that there is still no electricity or water and it is impossible to irrigate the plants. Fortunately, the blueberry season there has ended, but there are 80ha of wine vineyards which it is impossible to water.
Eventually, we contact our account manager in Concepción by phone. Both he and his family are OK, which is a great relief to us all. Finally, the army takes the control of whole affected area in Chile. My account manager tells me he can finally sleep without fear. I think about how the government made a very late decision to send the army, even though the army was ready to go on the first day and the people in the affected regions were asking for their help in order to provide security. I´m very proud of our army.
There are millions of brave people in our small, long and narrow country who will continue to do their best. There is only one answer hard work. My responsibility and our responsibility at EntrerÃos Farms is to reconstruct our country, our farm and its production. Despite all the difficulties, the first step is to go on as normal; to continue to supply our customers across the world with best quality organic fruit; and to continue to provide our employees with a good working environment. By that I mean a good house and family environment. With that in mind, our new commitment to the Entrerios family is to reconstruct the homes lost in this tragedy.
For this, we ask you, as a part of the whole supply chain, to do the best you can for your clients in order to make the most profit. With this profit, we can reconstruct the homes of our employees as quickly as possible. If you are willing and able to help us in another way, we would be very grateful.
Jorge Bawlitza, EntrerÃos Farms