SLO County residents share tales of survival in Chile quake

Grover Beach videographer Steven Gibby was sleeping in a hut in a Chilean coastal village when the shaking from an 8.8 temblor started early Saturday morning, said his wife, Pamala Gibby.

He grabbed only his pants and camera. With a travel companion on his nature-filming excursion, Steven Gibby headed for the hills in a truck they had nearby.

Minutes later, a massive wall of water about 40 feet high crashed through the town where he had been staying south of Santiago, Pamala Gibby said.

After making it to Santiago, a Chilean man gave Steven Gibby sandals.

“He phoned me from a satellite phone and left a message, saying he survived the quake, but if anything were to happen, that he loved me,” Pamala Gibby said.

In the hours since, the Gibbys have talked and communicated by text message through the satellite phone.

On Monday, Steven Gibby was on his way to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and he plans to board a flight for the United States to conclude a harrowing experience, his wife said.

“He told me he filmed the sunrise and the devastation the morning of the quake, and that he went looking for survivors,” Pamala Gibby said. “I think it was a great blessing he was able to survive, and I wonder that if he was in a hotel room if he would have made it.”

Steven Gibby isn’t the only person with local ties who may have narrowly escaped death. At least 723 people died in the quake and the tsunami it caused.

Morro Bay resident and Chilean native, Maria Paz, said Monday that her parents’ home in the town of Talca collapsed.

“My parents felt the earthquake for about a half-minute before they were able to get out of the house,” Paz said. “Their home collapsed and now they’re staying with my sister who lives in the hills. Her house is OK.”

Paz said a cousin and her 2-year-old child who live on the coast in Chile were able to flee from a tsunami that destroyed the town.

Her family members all are OK, she has learned, but her mind isn’t at ease.

“I have seen places I know on TV, and a school I even went to,” Paz said. “I’m still thinking of my people and my country.”

Cal Poly Spanish professor Kevin Fagan said that his wife, Maria Ines, is from the Chilean town of Quirihue and has been unable to reach friends and relatives there; she saw the town devastated on television.

“We fear the worst,” Fagan said Monday, his voice strained with emotion.

Fagan said the Chilean town where he and his wife honeymooned, Constitución, also was destroyed by the quake and tsunamis.“Some people were camping on an island offshore,” Fagan said. “All gone.”