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Hairdressers respond to "fashion emergency"

Stylists stride into quake-flattened Chilean town, hair dryers in their hip holsters.


Inia Valdes, who has lived 33 years in Australia, was visiting her childhood home when it crashed on top of her. She’ll be going back to Australia with a handful of wooden shards and a box of peaches. That’s all that’s left of it.

Danubio Berlin Correa, a teacher and the town’s unofficial historian, awaits his wife. He’s going to have to update the book he wrote on Curepto legends and traditions with the story of its recovery — “a story not yet told."

Iris Correa, sister of the founder of the high school, was widowed two years ago and she doesn’t want the quake to force her back to Santiago with her grown sons. But she can’t enter her house without remembering the voice of her neighbor, the parish priest, crying out “Mamita, are you there? Mamita, are you alive?” She explains that the priest lost his mother in the quake.

The stylists work at a fast clip, attending to a mentally challenged woman who has never had her hair styled, several sisters, a woman who sobbed and a family of three. More than 60 people attend, and each one leaves renewed, transformed. ¨Once the men get started talking, they never stop," Francia comments. "The women leave feeling pampered and announcing new projects and plans."

After closing shop, the stylists make the scene at a benefit dance organized by residents of Abate Molina Street, where only one house is left standing. A local band plays rancheras and the beer flows. A teary drunk buttonholes a city councilman, begging for a place to house his family.

And in the wee hours, three strong aftershocks sober the drunks and jolt the sleepers from their dreams.

In the morning, townspeople gather in the plaza to pray for resurrection and reconstruction. But for some, like Elizabeth Morales, a small miracle has occurred. Easter has brought “a new hairdo and a new lease on life.” 

Freelance journalist Lezak Shallat sang with the Bellezza Vocale choir in Curepto.