UT Faculty in Chile Recall Earthquake Experiences

KNOXVILLE –Three University of Tennessee, Knoxville, faculty members remain in Santiago, Chile, after a magnitude 8.8 earthquake rocked the nation Feb. 27 and tremors continue to rattle the ground.

The faculty members, who are due to return to Knoxville this weekend, have been sharing their experiences of the past week via e-mail.

“I thought the building was going to fall down around us. That was by far the scariest moment of my life to date,” said Tara Mohrfeld, full-time MBA program manager of operations and global initiatives.

Mohrfeld, Dick Reizenstein, associate professor emeritus of marketing, and Jack Mills, lecturer and former Procter & Gamble executive, were in their hotel at the time of the massive quake. All three of them were unhurt.

They were part of a group of 67 students and four other faculty members from UT’s full-time MBA program headed to Chile for a 10-day international immersion experience. The students and other faculty were en route when the quake occurred and their planes were rerouted before landing in Chile.

Mohrfeld, Reizenstein and Mills had arrived in Santiago the day before the quake.

For Mills, this was not his first earthquake experience. He had lived through one in Indonesia and another in Los Angeles, but he said this one was by far of the scariest.

“I was awake when the quake hit,” he said. “I immediately moved to the bedroom door with one foot in the hallway and one in the bedroom. I honestly thought the hotel might fall. The experience lasted maybe 45 seconds. The scary part was the earthquake’s growing in energy and intensity. It was impossible to know when it would stop or when it had peaked.”

All three faculty credit Santiago’s sound building structures for their safety. Due to strict seismic building codes, their hotel suffered only minor, cosmetic damage such as cracked plaster.

“We are very, very lucky. We were able to drive around the city on March 1 and, although some of the older buildings did suffer damage, the city is amazingly intact and functioning,” said Mohrfeld.

The three remain amazed at the resilience of the Chilean people. Just a day after the quake, Reizenstein said business was back to normal.

“The city looked like a normal day with businesses and restaurants open, people going to work, our hotel fully cleaned up and staffed, grocery stores open and shelves fully stocked,” observed Reizenstein. “It has been a remarkable experience to see how an event that could have wrecked Santiago has been dealt with so effectively by its courageous citizens.”

However, southern coastal cities did not fare so well. Near to the epicenter, the region suffered extensive damage from the quake and flooding from five tsunami waves approximately seven feet high.

“The real tragedy is the impact that the earthquake has had on the people of Chile,” said Mills. “Most of the losses are in cities along the coast. We hear that more than 1,000 lives have been lost, which, if my math is correct, would be like the U.S. losing 15,000 to 20,000 people on a per capita basis.”

Still, the faculty members are grateful for the support and concern extended to them from the UT Knoxville and Chilean communities. The three said the UT MBA students and program staff worked hard to keep everyone safe and informed, as did the hotel and its staff.

They are also thankful for each other’s professionalism and calm under pressure.

C O N T A C T  :

Cindy Raines (865-974-4359, craines1@utk.edu)
Whitney Holmes (865-974-5460, wholmes7@utk.edu)

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