Bay Area groups rally to send aid to Chile

March 1, 2010 5:30:36 PM PST
Here in the Bay Area, people with loved ones in Chile are finally able to make contact with them. One South Bay business is already thinking about how it can help with relief efforts.

Beth Wahl's husband first contacted her about the devastating earthquake in Chile about a half hour after the magnitude 8.8 quake struck. Wahl was in Palo Alto, and her husband Raul Diaz was at a family's home in Villarrica, about 100 miles from the epicenter. When the two spoke again Monday via Skype, ABC7 was there.

Diaz says the earthquake was unlike anything he had ever felt. The jolts were intense and relentless.

"It felt like the house was being struck continuously, just like being slammed very hard. Things came off the wall and it felt like the house was moving three to four feet. The jolts lasted for about a minute and a half," he said.

Diaz says things in the home came crashing down, but the structure itself withstood the quake. Even with the region's strict building codes an estimated 500,000 structures in Chile are severely damaged.

The family-owned Mi Pueblo grocery chain based in San Jose is already talking about a fundraising effort. The 14 store locations just collected $100,000 for earthquake relief in Haiti.

"We have found that our customers want to give and they'll give what they can and they do so very generously and we are simply a vehicle for them," Perla Rodriguez said.

The American Red Cross immediately pledged $50,000 for earthquake relief in Chile and is now waiting for more information from the Chilean Red Cross.

"We're taking their lead; it's a very prepared and well versed Red Cross society so we're relying on them to let us know what they need," Barb Larson, CEO of the Red Cross Silicon Valley said.

Wahl says the people of Chile hesitate to ask for help but she says they will need it, especially the poorer, rural communities outside the cities.

"There's a lot of damage and a lot of people who need assistance, so I am hoping people don't suffer from donor fatigue and still continue to be generous," she said.

Diaz hopes to return to Palo Alto in about a week. For now he says the aftershocks are keeping everyone on edge.