In the early-morning hours of February 27, 2010, not long before a massive earthquake leveled much of south-central Chile, Filomena Correa had a premonition that something awful was about to happen.
“I tried to tell my husband, but he was sleeping and didn’t hear me,” says Correa, who lives in Vichuquén, Chile, about 300 kilometers southwest of Santiago.
Minutes later, the ground began to shake violently. Correa, who is 67, and her husband Jose bolted from their bed and literally ran for their lives. “We got out as fast as we could with whatever we had on,” she says. “It was terrible.”
The 8.8-magnitude earthquake was one of the worst in recorded history. It lasted 180 interminable seconds and triggered a tsunami that wreaked further havoc along the Chilean coast. All told, the earthquake killed 525 people in Chile and caused an estimated $30 billion in damage.
While, fortunately, no one was killed in Vichuquén, the town was gutted. “It looked like a war zone,” says Raul González, a Barrick Project Engineer who relocated to Vichuquén shortly after the earthquake to help the town rebuild.
In the aftermath of the earthquake, 250 Barrick volunteers converged on Vichuquén and other towns in Chile’s coastal region of Maule to help build emergency homes. Barrick also donated 8,000 liters of water, mattresses, pillows and blankets to local residents, many of whom lost their homes.
It was the first phase of Barrick’s involvement in a long-term reconstruction plan that encompassed Vichuquén and the towns of Aquelarre and Boyeruca. Overall, Barrick contributed $5 million and played an active role in the reconstruction project, which included the rebuilding of three schools: one in Vichuquén, one in Aquelarre and one that was recently completed and unveiled in a ceremony in Boyeruca.
“This school is a testament to the spirit and resilience of this community,” said Igor Gonzales, Barrick’s Regional President for South America, who attended the ceremony. “This town didn’t succumb to despair when it would have been so easy to in the face of such devastation. Instead, you began to rebuild and the results are evident today.”
In addition to the reconstruction of the schools, Barrick is helping rebuild 24 houses in Vichuquén that were severely damaged in the earthquake. One of those homes belonged to Correa. “I am infinitely grateful for the assistance and support we received from Barrick,” says Correa, who has lived in an emergency home built by Barrick since that fateful February day.
Correa’s old house was made of adobe brick and may have been as much as 200 years old. It was a designated historic site, as was the entire town of Vichuquén, a popular tourist destination known for its colonial architecture and adobe structures.
To assist with the rebuild and ensure the town retained its heritage designation, Barrick engaged SENSICO, a Peruvian organization that pioneered earthquake-resistant construction techniques for adobe buildings.
“Barrick and SENSICO showed that reconstruction with adobe was possible,” says Román Pavéz López, Mayor of Vichuquén. “That was very important because it allowed Vichuquén to retain its historic identity. From the beginning of the emergency, Barrick’s presence made us feel supported and helped strengthen our resolve to overcome this crisis.”
Construction of the first five heritage homes will be completed in the coming months. “We can’t wait to return to our house again,” says Correa, whose house will be among the five.
Once completed, the five houses will be unveiled in a ceremony that will also mark Barrick’s formal exit from the town. “We are extremely pleased we could play a part in the reconstruction of these historic homes, as well as the many other projects that we supported,” says Igor Gonzales.
After living in Vichuquén for nearly two years, Raul González recently left to take on a new assignment. He is now living in La Serena, Chile, about 700 kilometers north of Vichuquén, where he is helping implement the closure plan for Barrick’s El Indio mine.
For about a month prior to his departure, González says, he was invited to a ceremony or party almost every night by people who wanted to express their appreciation to Barrick. “The people were amazing,” he says. “Mothers and fathers from the schools that we helped build made parties, and people kept saying, over and over, ‘We don’t know what we would have done without Barrick’s help.’"
Barrick contributed $5 million to the reconstruction effort in Vichuquén, Aquelarre and Boyeruca. Here is a list of the infrastructure projects supported by Barrick: