Chile's Earthquake Legacy, Captured in One Photo

An iconic image captures what a man, and his country, lost during earthquake.

March 5, 2010, 4:37 PM

March 5, 2010— -- Sometimes a photo captures more than a moment.

An image seen in almost every newspaper and magazine and all over Chilean TV shows 26-year-old Bruno Sandoval in the seaside town of Pelluhue, holding a tattered Chilean flag while standing in front of where his home once stood.

The photo was taken a day after the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Chile.

Sandoval and his mother both make a modest living selling crafts at local fairs in Pelluhue, about 200 miles southwest of Santiago. And his family, including his two children, live most of the year in the city of Talca.

During the Chilean summer (which ended last weekend), they rent space in the popular vacation spot for Chileans. Sandoval had left town last Friday, but his mother was there when the earthquake struck.

"I felt a very strong movement and we rapidly headed to the top of the hill," said Sandoval's mother, Maria Barrera Gonzalez. "The night was very clear. And we could see how the sea was moving, we could see the rocks. They said a tsunami was coming in seconds. It came breaking all the glass and an enormous noise."

Sandoval returned Saturday afternoon frantically searching for his mother. "When I saw that the house was gone," he said, "I feared the worst...I found the total destruction, no house, no car, there was nothing."

Fortunately, his mother was OK, after scrambling to safety up a hill with neighbors. Together, Sandoval and his mom went to see if they could retrieve any belongings. A few steps from Sandoval's crushed car, in the mud, he found the flag.

"I was looking for some of my belongings, the money I had left in the house, anything...While digging in the sand, I found the flag buried, and it caught my attention, I pulled it out and cleaned it," he said. "I felt embarrassed to see it like that. It was very emotional to have found it that way because at that moment, I realized the flag reflected what had happened in that place, that much destruction, but regardless, the flag was in one piece a bit broken, but it was there to be repaired the same as we have to do with Chile."

And that's when a photographer from The Associated Press snapped the now-famous photo. Friday night, the man in the photo was the guest of honor on a national telethon for earthquake victims.

"[The picture] shows the country needs to be repaired, it needs to be cleaned up," he said, "But if we stay together, we can do it."

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