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Quake hits home for some with roots in the local area

Gabriela Miller, left, and her mother, Sofia Miller, are pictured during a family vacation in June 2008 in front of La Moneda, the presidential palace in Santiago, Chile. Sofia Miller is a native of Chile and teaches in the Willmar School District. Gabriela is currently teaching in Chile. Submitted photo

WILLMAR -- The handful of families in Willmar with ties to Chile have been able to contact their loved ones, and everyone seems to have come through the earthquake there in good shape.

Chile was hit by an enormous 8.8-magnitude earthquake shortly after 3:30 a.m. Saturday.

The confirmed death toll had reached 802 by Wednesday afternoon. The earthquake is estimated to have caused as much as $30 billion in damage.

For Jody and Rick Loseth of Willmar, it was a long weekend until Sunday, when they were able to see their daughter Carin and her 2-month-old son Lucas using Skype, a service that enables free voice and video calls over the Internet.

"She was nursing her baby when the earthquake hit," Loseth said. "She was terrified, absolutely terrified."

Carin Loseth lives in Santiago with her fiancé and his family. "Her story is a pretty good one," Jody Loseth said. They live in a residential area of Santiago and their home did not suffer structural damage. They do not live near the areas that have been hit by looting since the earthquake.

The apartment complex where she lived before was more heavily damaged than the home where they live now, she said.

Willmar native Gabriela Miller was visiting her mother's parents in Valparaiso last weekend. She is an English teacher in Santiago and is the daughter of Sofia and Gary Miller of Willmar. (Gary Miller is an editor and photographer at the Tribune.)

Sofia Miller, a native of Chile, said she got up early Saturday and turned on the television. When she saw the news, she started trying to call her parents.

"I was lucky because I knew right away in the morning," she said. She was able to get through to her parents and daughter quickly and was relieved that they were OK. As the day went on, it became more difficult to find a way to contact people in Chile, though.

The Rev. Hector Pinochet of Willmar was in Chile at the time of the earthquake. His wife was able to reach him and learned that he was alright, too, Miller said. The other families she knows with ties to Chile have also been able to get through one way or another, she said.

Traditional telephone calls have been particularly difficult to make since the earthquake. "Facebook has been wonderful," she said, and she's been able to use Skype when phone calls haven't gone through.

Sofia Miller said she was in some earthquakes while growing up in Chile, but this was the first time for Gabriela. Sofia's parents have a solid house built to withstand earthquakes, she said. Her father owns a construction company and built his own house.

"My mom said it was horrific, horrible; it was so long," she said.

Of the families she knows with ties to Chile, all have been able to contact some family members. So far it sounds like they came through it unscathed.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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