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Latest Earthquake-Related Information

This page is being updated regularly. It is in chronological order, so the latest information is at the bottom.

CTIO also has earthquake-related travel information on its website (click here).

As has been widely reported, Chile was hit by a powerful earthquake (8.8 on the Richter scale) early on the morning of Saturday, February 27.  The epicenter was located approximately 120 km north of Concepcion, and 320 km south of Santiago.  Damage is widespread, and more than 700 lives have been lost. Carnegie Observatories and the Magellan consortium extend their heartfelt condolences to the quake victims and their families.  Contributions to the relief effort can be made through the Chilean Red Cross or the American Red Cross.

The installations of the Las Campanas Observatory were unaffected by the earthquake.  Our biggest concern has been for those of our staff who live in Santiago, Talca, and Concepcion.  We have been able to contact nearly everyone, but communications with the area nearest the epicenter are still difficult.

Operations on the mountain and the El Pino office in La Serena are back to normal after an initial loss of power.  The mountain went back on the Chilean power grid late Saturday afternoon, and there have been no interruptions since then.

The biggest problem that we now face is transportation.  A few international flights (all Lan Chile) arrived in Santiago yesterday (Sunday), but the airport terminal is currently closed due to the significant damage sustained in the quake (see photos).  Large tents are being set up at the Santiago airport to serve as temporary terminals.  We expect to know much more in the next day or two about how long it will take to reestablish both the international routes and traffic between Santiago and La Serena.  We will attempt to keep you updated on this website as soon as we have more news.  For those with flights scheduled this week, we strongly recommend that you contact your airline for the latest flight status information.  Questions related to logistics in Chile should be directed to Emma Molina (emolina @ lco dot cl).  Please make sure to submit a new travel arrangements form should your travel plans change.

March 1, 4:00 pm:  Lan Chile issued a statement regarding its present flight operations.  A rough translation is as follows: 

  • All domestic flight schedules within Chile and international flights to and from Santiago until Thursday March 4, 2010, inclusive, will be modified.
  • LAN will be publishing a new provisional flight schedule to protect passengers who are booked and ticketed on domestic Chile flights as well as international flights to and from Santiago, between Saturday, 27 February, and Thursday, 4 March.  This new schedule will begin operating on a limited basis from today, Monday, 1 March, and will increase as airport facilities permit. 
  • Passengers who have booked and issued tickets for flights between Saturday, 27 February, and Thursday, 4 March, for flights within Chile and international flights to and from Santiago should contact the LAN Help Desk to obtain a reservation in this new schedule. Everyone will be accomodated, but passengers are asked to have patience as the operation increases gradually. 
  • Flights within Chile and international flights to and from Santiago until Sunday March 7, will be closed for sale in order to prioritize passengers with existing reservations.  Operations from Friday, March 5 onward are currently being evaluated and further information will be forthcoming soon.
  • The rest of LAN's operations (Domestic Flights in Peru, Argentina, Ecuador and international flights that do not depart or arrive from Santiago), will continue to operate normally. 
  • Passengers with flights later than Sunday, March 7, are requested to refrain from calling the LAN Help Desk to avoid saturing the lines and thereby permit the best service to those who should be on flights within the next 48 hours. 

March 1, 7:26 pm:  An article appeared in El Mercurio.  A loose translation follows:

SANTIAGO - As of Wednesday, domestic and international flights will be restored between 8:00 and 20:00 hours in the tents set up in the old sector of the Santiago airport, it was announced this afternoon by the Director General of Civil Aviation, General Jose Huepe.

Meanwhile, national and international arrivals are taking place in the protocol salon.  Overseas flights must first land at another domestic airport authorized to carry out immigration, SAG, and customs control.

However, Huepe said that priority will be given to people with tickets issued for the weekend who were unable to fly due to the earthquake.

The authority clarified that air traffic must currently operated under "restricted conditions", which means that the airlines must submit their requirements to the aeronautical institution so that operation hours can be scheduled so as to avoid overcrowding.

The situation will be normalized on Friday, when the Santiago airport will become operational full-time for both departures and arrivals.

For his part, the General Manager of the SCL concessionaire, Alfonso Lacam, noted that "we are launching an emergency plan to start operations with restrictions on both arrivals and departures."

The executive called on the relatives of passengers to stay away from the airport so as not to generate traffice jams or cause damage to the terminal. In the case of travelers, he recommended using transportation provided by the airport itself.

The decisions were adopted at a meeting chaired by Huepe, which was also attended by representatives of the MOP, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), aircraft operators, and entities that provide services at the airport.

March 2, 8:00 am:  LAN has issued an update of its present flight operations, including information about re-scheduled flights.

March 2, 10:00 am:  Emma Molina called the American Airlines office in Santiago.  She was advised that American will not be renewing its flight schedule to or from Santiago today, and was told to call tomorrow (Wednesday) for an update.

March 2:  The U.S. Department of State has issued an updated travel alert for Chile which contains some new information on the situation at the Santiago airport.

March 3, 10:00 am:  LAN has a new update of both international and domestic flight operations into and out of Santiago on their web site.  Apparently there will be flights to and from La Serena today, although no details are yet available.  Emma Molina called the American Airlines office in Santiago, and was told to call back in the afternoon for news.  She has been unable to reach Delta Airlines' office in Santiago.  As far as we know, neither airline has yet resumed flights to Santiago.

March 3, 3:00 pm:  The first LAN flight from Santiago to La Serena arrived this morning.  Emma says that there may be two more flights this afternoon, although these do no appear on the LAN web site schedule for domestic flights for today.

March 4, 9:30 pm:  LAN continues to update the status of international flight operations into and out of Santiago on their web site.  They claim to be flying 45% of their normal routes now.  The situation with American Airlines is confusing.  They show flight both flights AA912 (to Miami) and AA940 (to DFW) as scheduled to depart tonight, but flights AA957 (from Miami) and AA945 (from DFW) last night are indicated as cancelled.  Not clear what's going on.

March 4, 10:00 pm:  Here is an article from earlier today summarizing the current situation at the Santiago airport.  Note the statement that traffic is expected to return to normal no later than this coming Monday.

March 5, 5:30 pm:  According to the Santiago airport web site, two American Airlines flights (1 from Miami, 1 from Dallas), and one Delta flight (from Atlanta) arrived yesterday (March 4).  LAN flights also arrived from Miami, Los Angeles, and New York.  Yesterday evening, American, Delta, and LAN flights also departed for destinations in the USA.  This morning, American, Delta, and LAN flights again arrived from the USA.  So we appear to be back to (more or less) normal operations.  On the domestic front, one flight made it from Santiago to La Serena and back yesterday, but apparently none will make it today.

March 7, 11:00 am:  The first observer to arrive successfully (on Delta) from the USA made it to La Serena late Friday afternoon.  A second observer arrived today.  Four visitors departed La Serena on Friday and successfully arrived in the USA on American flights.  Flights between Santiago and La Serena are still a problem, but buses is a back-up option.  Operations at the Santiago terminal are still difficult.  Expect long lines, and having to stand in the sun.  Make sure you have a hat and sunblock...

March 8, 11:00 am:  Flights between Santiago and La Serena are starting to normalize.  In its latest update, LAN claims to be operating at 65% of its normal itinerary.  Two flights are scheduled to arrive at and depart from La Serena today; tomorrow the schedule shows that three flights will operate.  Tickets can be booked over the internet (I just got a ticket to fly from La Serena to Santiago on Thursday).

March 9, 10:45 am:  Jeff Crane is one of the first visitors to successfully fly from La Serena to Santiago (on LAN), and then on to Dallas (on American).  He writes:

"I'm in Santiago at Medas in the domestic (temporarily international) terminal, where wifi is available (the password for which can happily be bought with a cerveza or two). Based on Shec's and Frank's reports from their travel on Friday, I'd say that things are continuing to improve.

"I took the 12:05 flight from La Serena. It left on time and was well under half full. Maybe as little as 1/4. In Santiago, we taxied to an area near the domestic terminal and parked. There was a ~20 minute delay getting off the plane while they unloaded the luggage.  We exited the rear door of the plane down some stairs and onto a bus that took us to a spot at the edge of the tarmac where our checked luggage had been placed.

"After collecting my checked suitcase, I walked along an exit path to a large tent that was set up in a parking lot. At 1pm, there was seating available under the tent. There were some booths set up selling various things like sunglasses, and a place to buy food. From the tent, there was a different path to walk outside to either domestic or international departures. The international departures are still being handled in the domestic terminal. The domestic departures are being handled outside. That's where people will want to have sunblock or a hat.

"Despite the fact that I was 10 hours early for my flight, I was allowed inside the international (pre-check-in) departure area. There is one set of check-in/baggage drop counters, so they are taking passengers in waves depending on your airline. The check-in for the American Airlines flights did not begin until close to 7pm, with the line starting to form at 6pm. I spent my time waiting on the ground floor of the atrium where the huge artistic stack of suitcases sits. There were plenty of seats. Indoor restrooms were available, and there were places to get food and water. At 6pm, I got in line to check in.

"After checking in at 7, I went up the escalator that one usually goes down when arriving domestically. There, they had a temporary customs area set up. It went quickly, followed by a quick pass through security. Inside the international departure area, the big store with all of the booze is open, as well as Starbucks, Medas for food (and wifi), and a couple of other places. Since only the indoor area of the domestic terminal is open, the Admiral's Club is not.

"This area of the airport looks normal aside from a number of missing ceiling tiles. I'm surprised that none of the windows seem to have broken, or were replaced very quickly.

So all in all, the trip has been fine so far. No complaints. As I said, it seems to have improved since Friday, as expected, but I have no insight as to how long it will be before things return to normal."

Upon arriving at DFW, Jeff added:

"The flight to Dallas left on time. The boarding process was a bit more chaotic than usual because we left from gate 29, which is downstairs and requires transport by bus to the plane. It took longer than usual, and there was no "preferred" boarding order, but it was fine."

March 9, 11:00 am:  According to LAN's website, "flight operations to all destinations are back to normal".  They add: "We hope to be able to return to operating 100% of our flights out of the Santiago airport terminal shortly."

March 12: Yesterday, the author of this webpage successfully flew from La Serena to Santiago, and then from Santiago to Dallas.  Both flights departed and arrived on time.  The situation at the Santiago airport was the same as described above by Jeff Crane.  I would have to say that things went as smoothly as they ever do at the Santiago airport, in spite of the temporary installations.

April 8: The Santiago airport is now functioning more or less normally, and has been doing so for the last week or so.  Thanks to the various travelers who have advised me of this.  This should be the last entry in this page!

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