Skip to main content

Hillary Santana '12 Witnesses Devastating Christchurch, NZ Earthquake

Hillary Santana '12 Witnesses   
Devastating Christchurch, NZ Earthquake

by Alisa Giardinelli

proposed inn site
Hillary Santana '12

When Hillary Santana '12 chose to pursue her environmental studies concentration abroad, she had no idea how soon after her arrival in Christchurch - and how drastically - her plans would change. The honors biology major from South Lake Tahoe, Calif., arrived earlier this month to attend classes at the University of Canterbury. During an afternoon lecture this week, her building began to shudder and roll as a 6.3 magnitude earthquake struck the city.

"It felt as if the building was no longer attached to the ground," says Hillary. "Most of us ducked under desks and covered our heads. When it stopped, we were told to move outside and away from any buildings - no problem there!" Back at her campus apartment an hour later, emergency personnel limited access until inspections could be completed.

The University of Canterbury campus, located three miles from the quake's epicenter, has suspended classes. Although power has been restored to her building, water is still shut down in much of the area.

The Off-Campus Study is in communication with Hillary through her father, who has been able to speak with her by phone. It has also heard from two additional Swarthmore students who are in New Zealand, but not near the quake zone.

"We have not been able to contact Hillary via email and people have been asked to limit phone calls to New Zealand due to the emergency situation," says Director of Off-Campus Study Patricia Martin. "The University of Canterbury has been in regular contact over conditions at the University and made us aware very early on that the students were okay and that Hillary's accommodation was secure. Swarthmore alumni in the area were contacted to see if they could offer additional support."

Describing her flatmates as "pretty freaked out," Hillary has been trying to keep updated on the chaos downtown. "Several of us are looking to volunteer at the shelters they're setting up outside of the areas of devastation for the evacuees, but emergency efforts have restricted travel," she says. "I still can't believe how bad things are in downtown. It's only a 15-minute bus ride away."

"I will continue to keep everyone updated as best I can," she adds. "I'm fortunate to be in a relatively safe place and this city has been very welcoming to me since I arrived here only 10 days ago."

Although internet and phone service has been limited following the earthquake, people wishing to help out and stay informed can contact the New Zealand Red Cross.