I’m home! The end of my trip was a bit crazy with the flooding in Punta Arenas and I apologize for being out of touch. Thanks to all who have written and checked in- I am fine. I arrived in Punta Arenas on Sunday, March 11th, the day that rain and flash floods left about 800 people in Punta Arenas homeless. Schools were closed and the local chapter of the National Emergency office raised the alarm level to red, the highest level. Las Minas, the river that crosses Punta Arenas flooded businesses, schools and the city’s main square. The lower part of Punta Arenas was impacted the most with hotels, hostels and the casino under water. Cars were dragged by the intensity of the flash floods and in less than 30 hours the downpour was equivalent to a third of the annual rainfall. Punta Arenas is a windy city, but this much rain was atypical; the flood was the largest in 22 years.
We were docked on Sunday, but as I mentioned the Gould had to leave the pier and anchor offshore. A seawall broke and several shipping containers washed out to sea; we could see all of this from the ship. I was supposed to move to a hotel on Monday, but wasn’t able to do so until Tuesday afternoon. Because we were anchored offshore, a pilot boat picked up the people moving off the LMG and took us to land. We formed a chain to get our luggage ashore; we passed it from one boat to another to another and then to land. My hotel was in fairly good shape, but the sidewalks and streets were full of muck and mud. The scientists from Copacabana and Cape Shirreff left the ship before the flood and ended up having to abandon their hotels in waist deep water. Two of them actually lost their shoes in the mud as they were leaving the hotel. Fortunately the airport was in operation and I was able to fly out on Wednesday the 14th as scheduled.
The weather at home has been unseasonably warm and I’ve been enjoying spending time outside hiking and riding my bike. I didn’t realize until I got home how much I missed seeing trees.
This was a dramatic ending, but certainly distracted me from feeling melancholy about leaving. I’ve spent a lot of time in the past few days catching up with my family, friends and students and have been surprised by how many people have asked if my PolarTREC expedition in Antarctica has “changed” me. My answer is definitely yes. At this point the experience seems a bit like a dream that has left me in complete awe of the Western Antarctic Peninsula and the people who study it. I look forward to sharing my experiences with anyone and everyone who will listen.