At 3:45 on the morning of February 27, as a priest peacefully tended to the deities of Sri Sri Gaura-Nitai at the ISKCON temple in Santiago, an 8.8 magnitude earthquake suddenly struck Chile.
Five hundred people were killed, and over 500,000 left homeless across the country, as buildings collapsed and caught fire, and highways and bridges buckled.
While Concepcion, Chile’s second-largest metropolitan area, was hit the hardest because of its proximity to the quake’s center, the capital Santiago was also badly affected by a 7.0 magnitude quake as well as significant aftershocks the next day—when devotees would have been celebrating Gaura Purnima.
Neither the Santiago temple’s four resident devotees, nor any other ISKCON devotees living in the area were injured, although the temple has sustained significant structural damage.
“I was not at the temple when the earthquake struck,” says Temple President Amara Gauranga Dasa, “But I immediately contacted Ramakeli Prabhu, the Vice President, to discuss the damage. I then rushed to the scene as soon as authorities had established some order in the city and were allowing traffic.”
Closing off the worst affected sections of the temple, Amara Gauranga immediately had an architect with over fifty years of experience give his professional evaluation of the damage.
Visiting on March 2nd, the architect reported severe structural damage to the second floor of the temple building, with a high probability of collapse in the men’s ashram living area and VIP guest room. He also noted that the temple courtyard did not have a safety zone in which to take refuge if the walls of the neighbouring building were to collapse.
On March 5th, a civic structural engineer with experience evaluating building damage for the government during North Chile’s 2007 earthquake visited the temple, producing a combined report with the architect. This confirmed the assessments of the previous report, emphasizing the nonexistence of a safety zone and the danger that the neighbour’s walls could collapse into the temple’s courtyard. It also added that the chances of the building completely collapsing in the event of another earthquake were extremely strong.
Finally, the report recommended demolition of the temple building, and immediate eviction of all residents.
“We have moved all the temple residents to a congregational devotee’s house, where they can live comfortably and hold morning services for some time,” Amara Gauranga says. “The GBC have also authorized moving the deities of Sri Sri Gaura Nitai, Shalagrama Sila, Prahlada Nrisimha and our Srila Prabhupada murti to our head priest’s apartment, where They will be worshipped in a room reserved exclusively for Them.”
In addition, all ISKCON-owned property within the temple building is currently being dismantled and removed.
“These are all temporary measures, while we look for a medium-term solution such as a rented building,” Amara Gauranga explains. “We are also analyzing when and how to begin building a new home for Sri Sri Gaura Nitai, and we ask all devotees around the world to pray that we will be able to do this soon.”