A few days ago, I returned from two weeks' vacation in Chile. Chile is a beautiful country, but I never intended to be there for more than a week. When the airport was destroyed after a magnitude 8.5 earthquake in Santiago (8.8 at the epicenter), I had little choice.

I was brushing my teeth well after 3 in the morning, after a fun night on the town, when the earthquake started. I immediately tried to recall the contents of the earthquake emergency binder I had once been handed at my old job in San Francisco, but my mind went to mush. No matter how many drills you may have, you never knows how you will react during a natural disaster. You simply cannot decide how you are going to feel before you feel it.

My first instinct when the floor started to shake was to find my sister, who was sleeping in the room beside me. Together, we ran to another room where less furniture would have the chance to fly by and held hands. My friend's large, sturdy house felt like a ship in rough waters rocking side to side. The noise of slamming doors and rattling windows was piercing.

Once my sister and I assumed our positions during the earthquake, I felt surprisingly calm. I had an out-of-body experience where I watched myself try to get a grip and then...a deeply internal moment where I said a prayer. After close to two minutes of extreme activity, the earthquake stopped.

More shaking came for me in the hours following what would become the fifth-largest earthquake in recorded history. My body shook uncontrollably, and I kept asking it to please stop, but it wouldn't listen. I returned to my debris-filled bed (part of the ceiling on my pillow), and attempted to return to get a few moments of sleep. Before my sister and I could close our eyes, though, my sister turned on her BlackBerry so we could send a "We are okay" message to our parents, my husband and her boyfriend. We wanted them to wake up with our news before they heard about it from any other source. We also used my sister's BlackBerry to update our status on Facebook. Throughout the experience, I felt most calm once I was connected with those I loved at home and could read a few of their notes of comfort. Facebook and email were invaluable to me on my recent trip.

How a text message helped Andrea


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