Coquimbo shaken but standing proud
"I'm very proud of what Coquimbo achieved during this World Cup," said Fernando Medina, pleased to reflect on a job well done after the city's fifth and final game at Chile 2015. Given recent events, the head of Coquimbo's Local Organising Committee had every right to enjoy the moment.
"In mid-September, we suffered a huge earthquake which destroyed part of the town. We were worried whether the competition would go well or not, but the city authorities and the whole team here worked very hard to make sure everything was ready – and I'm happy that everything went well."
The disaster struck in the evening of 16 September, when Chile was shaken by tremors measuring 8.3 on the Richter scale, which caused the deaths of 14 people and forced a million more to be evacuated. The Coquimbo Region was at the epicentre of the quake, and Coquimbo was hit just minutes later by a tsunami that also affected the neighbouring town of La Serena, another FIFA U-17 World Cup 2015 host city.
"The stadium in Coquimbo wasn't damaged, but the port and whole neighbourhoods were devastated," explained Medina. "Some members of our team had their houses destroyed, and we did all we could to help them. People suffered a lot, but they still gave of themselves without hesitation for this World Cup. This event provided a motivation to get the city ready. Everyone had worked hard on this event all year, so we didn't want to fail so close to our goal."
Still in shock Situated on what geologists call the Ring of Fire, Chile is regularly affected by intense seismic activity. Tremors on the same scale as the recent earthquake occur every ten years on average, and they are extremely traumatic for local residents – as Jessica Moreno, one of Coquimbo's 160 tournament volunteers, explained. "I was at the supermarket when the earthquake hit. It was terrible. Everyone was screaming and I thought it was the end of the world. I wouldn't wish that on anyone.
"I'm someone who's calm by nature, but I completely panicked during the earthquake," she recalled. "My son had to grab hold of me and help me move because I was completely paralysed." The mother of two then left to find her daughter in her car, which was damaged by the violent aftershocks. "I just had to go and find her and get the family back together again.
"I have a big house, and I don't want to compare my situation with that of people who lost everything, but when we got home everything was broken. The water didn't reach our neighbourhood, but the earthquake destroyed a lot of things. We don't talk about it much among ourselves. In any case, I don't talk about what happened to me because there are people who lost everything. My own story isn't as bad as that."
Being prepared Moreno may have escaped the worst, but the emotions provoked by the event were nonetheless powerful. "Working on this World Cup has done me a lot of good; it's helped me to forget everything," she said, wiping away tears. "To live through that is one thing, but to talk about it is something else entirely."
Fellow volunteer Cristian Castillo was likewise touched by the catastrophe. "My apartment building was flooded up to the floor below mine and it's unfit for habitation now," explained the 22-year-old. "The building nearly collapsed. People talked a lot about La Serena and Coquimbo, but many houses were destroyed further inland as well, and my grandparents' home had to be completely demolished.
"This World Cup hasn't made me forget what happened because one of my responsibilities here is to help people in case of a tsunami or earthquake," he added. "Everyone has received instructions." Indeed, while Chile may be one of the world's most earthquake-prone nations, it is also among the best prepared should disaster strike – as it has so far proved with panache during the U-17 World Cup.