"It was terrible, my family home disappeared, and my city, Concepcion, got a lot of damage," said Goni.
Now, as the Chilean Ambassador to the United States, he worries about his beloved country and the fate of its people in the wake of another powerful temblor.
Goni said since the quake of 1960 there has been an effort to design new buildings that can withstand powerful quakes, and technically, the country is prepared for this kind of situation, but he adds "emotionally, it's going to be a shock."
The 8.8 earthquake struck at 1:34 am EST and it was followed in quick succession by a series of aftershocks, the most powerful measuring 6.0 on the Richter scale.
The shaking was felt as far away as Brazil. Tsunami warnings went out across the Pacific, as far away as Hawaii and Japan. By midday the death toll stood at 147 but that number is expected to climb.
Ambassador Goni said offers of aid came pouring in almost immediately after the earthquake hit. There were calls from high-ranking officials at the State Department, the Department of Defense and from the private sector. Goni said former President Bill Clinton also offered his support.
President Barack Obama, speaking from the Rose Garden said “the United States stands ready to assist in the rescue and recovery efforts, and we have resources that are positioned to deploy should the Chilean government ask for our help.”
Ambassador Goni expressed his gratitude for the expressions of solidarity that are coming from all over the world. He said given his country's history of dealing with natural disasters of this kind, there is clear and strong preparation for these occurrences.
Personally, Ambassador Goni knows the fate of those trying to reach family and loved ones in Chile. He was able to get a phone call through to his family home in Concepcion within an hour after the quake hit. Fortunately, he said, they were all found safe.
"They were outside their houses, where it was less dangerous.”