Chilean pastor wept after quake, then got to work

CONSTITUCIÓN, Chile — As the house trembled, Chilean pastor Juan Mauricio Muñoz prayed with his wife, son and a young woman who was staying with them. When the 8.8-magnitude earthquake was over, they were shaken but unharmed.

But the worst was yet to come. Though no tsunami warning was issued, the pastor knew to expect a wave.

"We were always taught from a young age that in any kind of earthquake, you go to high ground," he said.

He rushed his family to the car, headed to his daughter's home at a higher elevation in this seaside city of Constitución, 164 miles south of Santiago.

As they were leaving, the pastor glanced across the Maule River toward an island where approximately 200 Chileans had been enjoying a late-night party. He saw the lights of nearly 30 cell phones waving frantically as partygoers trapped on the island tried to signal for help.

By then the water was rising into the street and around the wheels of his car — evidence that the 10-foot wave was quickly approaching. Horrified, Muñoz realized it was too late to help the people on the island.

Only three survived.

Just days after the Feb. 27 tragedy, Muñoz, pastor of Iglesia Bautista de Constitución, showed the devastation in his neighborhood to a disaster assessment team. Standing on the concrete slab where his home used to be, he fought back tears and recounted how the wave flattened everything on the waterfront. Like most of his neighbors, he lost a place to live and most of his belongings.

A street block of houses was gone. One of the family's cars was found almost three blocks uphill from his home. In one place, the water had crushed one building into the next. In another spot, the second story of a home blocked the street as if it were a one-story house. Everywhere, people searched the ruins, sorting through soaked belongings and wondering what to do next.

As Muñoz walked past the homes of his church members and friends, he couldn't keep from weeping. The people he loved had lost so much. The devastation was overwhelming.

But Muñoz knew it was time to minister. When he discovered his produce business was not damaged by the tsunami, he opened its doors and freely gave the food to people in need. His church's building — also spared — now provides housing for about 20 displaced people and serves as a center for distributing relief supplies.

"We thank God we have our lives," Muñoz said. "The other things are only material and can be replaced. God is good."

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