Schenectady County

Local native helps Chileans after experiencing quake firsthand

Niskayuna native Michael Eddy was at a bar in Santiago, Chile, on Saturday when he felt the ground m

Niskayuna native Michael Eddy was at a bar in Santiago, Chile, on Saturday when he felt the ground move underneath him like a rope bridge.

“I was being tossed back and forth quite aggressively, and it took me a while to realize what was happening,” Eddy said via a Skype call from Santiago on Tuesday.

It was the first earthquake the 23-year-old Niskayuna High School graduate had experienced.

Eddy, a graduate of Tufts University with a bachelor’s degree in economics and international relations, is working with an organization called the Poverty Action Lab, which is based out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Eddy, who has been in Santiago since September, is in charge of carrying out the various research projects the organization conducts to combat poverty in Chile.

Eddy said he held onto a wall inside the bar until the shaking stopped and then everyone started pouring out of the bar into the street.

The earthquake was not as strong in Santiago, which is well north of the hardest-hit areas. Additionally, buildings in the capital city — heavily damaged in previous earthquakes — are designed to withstand earthquakes. Eddy said no one near him was hurt during the quake.

As Eddy and his friends walked through the streets to his apartment building, he said there was broken glass and litter in the streets and superficial damage to some buildings, but everything seemed to be intact.

Eddy said he had no idea how big the earthquake was or how much damage it had done elsewhere in the country until he was able to watch the news when power was restored later Saturday.

At his apartment building, he said, people were scared. The high-rise buildings are designed to sway to keep from toppling over during an earthquake, so it feels scary on the 15th floor of a building, he said. Many people in his apartment complex spent the night on the floor just outside the entrance as aftershocks from the main quake continued. Eddy said aftershocks are continuing still, though weakening in intensity.

“There was just one a few hours ago,” he said Wednesday afternoon.

In the poor areas of Santiago, where Eddy does a lot of his work, the scene was not as good, he said. He visited those areas Monday. Most of the people in those buildings, which were not built to withstand earthquakes, are not able to return to their homes and are sleeping in courtyards outside.

“The more impoverished were left more vulnerable because of the quake because they weren’t prepared,” he said.

Electricity and telephone service was down in Santiago after the earthquake, Eddy said, but he was able to contact his family via Facebook on his cellphone.

“I got a Facebook message from my brother asking if everything was alright and I was able to respond to that, so that’s how my parents knew,” he said.

He let the rest of his friends know he was alright through Facebook, too.

Eddy’s father, Fred Eddy, said he was worried at first about his son’s safety after hearing about the earthquake on the news, but he said the family found out relatively quickly that he was alright.

Eddy said he’s glad his son was in Chile because he was learning a lot about economics and was able to help the local people.

“I remember when I was young and did risky things,” he said, “and this is a great experience for him.”

Eddy and a few of his friends are planning to journey south to the hardest-hit areas of Chile today to help with recovery efforts. Eddy said the trip, normally six hours, is expected to take about 12 hours because so many roads are damaged.

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