Wild ride: Man, daughter fall 13 floors as apartment building topples in Chilean quake

By Michael Warren, AP
Sunday, February 28, 2010

Man, daughter fall 13 floors in Chile quake

CONCEPCION, Chile — When their 13th-floor apartment began to shake, Alberto Rozas pulled his 7-year-old daughter into the bathroom doorway and waited for it to stop.

Instead, they fell.

Plummeting as their brand-new apartment building toppled like a felled tree, they hugged each other all the way down.

Rozas had no idea which way was up until he looked through his apartment’s shattered window and spotted light — “the light of the full moon.”

Rozas and his daughter, Fernanda, clambered up and to safety with nothing more than a few cuts, scrapes and bruises.

“The earthquake and the fall were one single, horrible thing,” Rozas told The Associated Press on Sunday. “I held onto her and she never let me go.”

Rozas’ neighbors who lived on the other side of the hall found themselves trapped beneath the structure, while rescuers painstakingly used electric saws and a generator-powered hammer to cut into the concrete.

“We don’t have any listening devices or cameras,” said Ian Argo, a firefighter commander.

As of Sunday, 23 people had been pulled alive from the 15-story Rio Alta building and seven bodies had been removed. An estimated 60 people remained trapped inside.

Socovil, the company that opened the concrete-and-glass structure last June, issued a statement saying it had complied with all building codes. But many residents were angry.

“The construction was obviously poor,” Rozas said.

Abel Torres, 25, had a view of the Bio Bio River from his sixth-floor apartment. He had just gotten home from his job at a nightclub when the quake hit at 3:34 a.m.

“My TV fell on top of me and suddenly I saw stars shooting across my window,” he said.

Torres and his roommate stacked furniture to reach that window — now a skylight — and escaped without clothes, coated in dust.

On the second floor, Maribel Alarcon and her husband Gunther rushed to comfort their 2-year-old son Oliver when he started crying moments before the temblor.

Their concern was their salvation: Oliver’s bedroom was the only place spared in their apartment.

“We prayed a lot,” Alarcon said. “And if God let us survive, that was because someone was going to rescue us.”

Much higher in the building, Rozas was sleeping alongside his daughter when the shaking began.

“There was dust, noise, everything falling,” he said. “We went to the bathroom doorway. Then there was the fall. Finally it stopped.”

After they climbed out of the wreckage, Rozas took Fernanda to her mother’s house, then returned to help firefighters understand the layout of the toppled building.

He retrieved medicine and clothes for Fernanda. And his own guitar.

will not be displayed