Human Sacrifice

My mind has returned this morning to the valiant efforts by 500+ average citizens after the 1960 Chilean earthquake.

If you’re not familiar with this heroic story, here’s the recap:

Saturday, May 21 – Small earthquake affects Arauco Province.  Holiday celebrations are canceled and emergency relief efforts organized.

Sunday, May 22 – The most powerful earthquake ever recorded affects all of Chile between Talca and Chiloe Island.  Some coastal villages simply disappear.  Mayhem and Chaos rule.

Tsunami waves start testing the mettle of survivors and continue to make their presence known for the next 22 hours.  Some individuals report being tree bound during the night, helplessly listening to cries for help from those they cannot see or reach.

Resulting landslides affect mostly sparsely or unpopulated areas.   However, one blocks the outflow of Rinihue Lake.

Tuesday, May 24 – Cordon Caulle begins to erupt 38 hours after the main shock of the Valdivia earthquake.   Preoccupied by earthquake damages and emergency efforts, the eruption that lasted until July 22nd received little media attention.  For those affected, yawning earth and destructive water is now joined by fire from the heavens.

Heavy spring rains coupled with dammed mountain lakes result in threats of flooding from  above for those who have climbed to escape tsunamis.

Emergency efforts to channel overflow to the ocean ensue.   27 bulldozers get mired in the mud, unusable and ineffective.   Dynamite blasts result in mud showers for all, but no lowering of water levels.

Early one morning, a bevvy of men show up with shovels.   Step-by-mud-sucking-the-boot-off-your-foot-step, they hand dig the lake’s escape route to the ocean.


When I first heard this story, my heart swelled with pride in the human spark we call ‘spirit’.   Contemporary and subsequent interviews indicate many individuals, both Polytheistic and Catholic,  believed the world to be ending.

Men who had lost some or all of their family, friends and possessions, whose current reality resembled nearly every scenario touted in any tale of Armageddon, chose to show up and dig anyways.


Amazingly, many books and articles that report on the Human Sacrifice of this period in history do not wax eloquent on the details of these laborers.

Instead, they focus on sporadic, rare reports of a return to the ancient practice of shedding human blood in order to satisfy the gods and restore order to the universe.

In my opinion, those writers missed the boat.

The true Human Sacrifice was those who put body and soul on the line, stubbornly digging through mud when everything around them said, “The End is Here.   Prepare to meet your Maker.”


I’ve been unable so far to round up much info on these individual heroes.  I did learn an engineer, Raul Saez, is best remembered for leading the effort.

He died on November 24, 1992, a week after being awarded the National Prize for Engineering and one day after being awarded the National Prize for Applied and Technological Sciences.

Wikipedia doesn’t tell me if those prizes were attached to his efforts in 1960.  I am happy he was given some kind of recognition while still alive to receive it.

Historically, we often fail to recognize and acknowledge greatness during the lifetime of an individual.


End of the world scenarios don’t bother me much.

I figure either I won’t be around to suffer or everyone, myself included, will be blessed with Second Winds and we will dig through mud, even while the world around us indicates, “Give Up!”.

I may not know their names, but I’m inspired by those who shoveled when Armageddon appeared.


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