YEPPOON'S Brian Power woke to the sound of screeching seagulls and rumbling, before he quickly jumped out of bed screaming, “It's an earthquake”.

His partner, Debbie Mann, at first thought he was crazy, but she immediately changed her mind when rubble from the ceiling fell on their bed.

All four walls around them cracked from top to bottom and furniture was thrown across the room.

The Yeppoon couple were in Chile on the weekend when an 8.8 magnitude earthquake struck, killing hundreds nearby.

Yesterday they said it was the “most terrifying experience” of their lives.

Mr Power and Ms Mann, who have taken a year's long-service leave to travel the world, yesterday spoke with The Morning Bulletin via email from Valparaiso, about 200km from the earthquake's epicentre.

Mr Power, 53, was a teacher at St Brendan's College and Ms Mann, 53, at Yeppoon High School, before heading off on an adventure about four weeks ago.

They were sleeping in their hostel when the earthquake struck off Chile's coast at 3.34am local time on Saturday (4.34pm Saturday, Queensland time).

“We had absolutely no idea what to do,” Ms Mann admitted yesterday.

“As we were fleeing in our underpants towards the five flights of dingy, rattling stairs, we were invited by two Chileans to join them in a doorway, where we braced ourselves for another few solid minutes.

“It was horrifying – I don't think I've felt so scared in all my life. We're in a strange country, in the pitch dark – with no trust in the building, no idea what to do and the mighty earth rumbling beneath us. The house rattled violently for a solid three minutes.”

Ms Mann said they formed a close bond with the two Chileans in the doorway as they hugged each other in their underwear.

She said the Chileans kept saying “tranquillo, tranquillo”, which meant “calm down”.

Ms Mann said every 20 minutes after the initial quake the earth continued to rumble with aftershocks.

About 300 people were killed in the weekend's earthquake – five of those from Valparaiso where they were.

“It adds new meaning to ‘the earth moved under out feet',” she said yesterday, trying to be positive.

The earthquake at Valparaiso was about 7.5 in magnitude. Ms Mann said they were lucky none of their property was damaged and the area they were staying in wasn't too damaged.

She said all the neighbours in the city were out helping each other clean up.

“Walking around the city, you begin to realise how lucky we are in Australia to have good building regulations,” she said.

“It might sound adventurous, but it is all pretty scary in a strange, second-world country.

“We feel lucky to be alive, especially when we go through those horrible few minutes in our mind. It is unreal.”

Ms Mann said they decided to travel after their four daughters recently left home.

So far they have travelled to Antarctica and climbed Villarrica Volcano, in Pucon, south of Santiago. They both enjoy travelling, having met in Germany in 1980.

They moved to Yeppoon in 1998 to raise their children.

Ms Mann and Mr Power will return to teaching next year.

But until then their next stop is Easter Island, provided they can get there as many of the roads are damaged. So is half of Santiago's airport.

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