Martina Maturana, only 12 years old, felt a slight tremor on Feb. 27 whilst everyone was asleep on Robinson Crusoe Island, in the Archipelago of Juan Fernández 420 miles off the coast of Chile.
Concerned, she warned her policeman father that something was happening. To reassure her, he called her grandfather who lives in Valparaiso in central Chile. They learned from him that a massive earthquake had struck the country just minutes before.
Just then, the girl noticed out the window that the sea was moving the boats in a strange way so she ran to the square to sound the alarm bell, waking the some 700 inhabitants of the island who live in the only village of San Juan Bautista.
According to the Chilean press, the girl did not know how many times she had to strike the bell for a tsunami warning, as there are different codes for each situation.
The first residents who awoke continued playing the bells to warn people to climb hills to save themselves.
It was just in time. Within minutes the giant tsunami wave came, destroying everything in its path.
At least 16 people were swept away from the island named for English writer Daniel Defoe’s famous 1719 fictional character, Robinson Crusoe. Eight bodies have been recovered.
Valparaiso Gov. Ricardo Bravo, traveled to the archipelago the day after the disaster, reporting that the waves had reached 985 feet inland and destroyed the homes of some 200 inhabitants. "There was nothing left," he is reporting as saying.
Pedro Forteza, a civilian pilot, who was sent to work at the National Emergency Office on the island after the disaster, told Chile National Television that the situation in the archipelago "is very, very serious," and that much of the town had disappeared.
Robinson Crusoe, only 36 square miles, is the largest island in the small group of islands that make up the Juan Fernández archipelago.
The sea swept away the municipal buildings, tourist sites, and homes.
The island of Juan Fernandez was indeed fortunate to be warned of the tsunami thanks to 12-year-old Martina’s alertness.
Oceanographer Alfonso Campusano, director of Ocean Studies at the University Andres Bello, and former head of the tsunami warning system Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service (SHOA), told media that, "predicting a tsunami would be expected from the moment the 8.8 magnitude earthquake struck.
"The Hydrographic and Oceanographic Service should have delivered a tsunami warning no later than 10 minutes after the earthquake," he said.
"Here was a lack of moral courage to say you have to evacuate; this is an unlawful killing," said Campusano.
Residents of several coastal areas affected by tsunamis in Chile said that the first wave of devastation came less than 10 minutes after the quake. Then many more people died when they went down to see the damage a little more than an hour after the first wave of disaster. Then, another wave struck, leaving only sand behind.