A group of Ottawa-area residents who were supposed to fly out of Chile a few hours before the nation was hit by a massive earthquake are thrilled to be back in the capital.

Dr. Marcos Bettolli and his family arrived in Ottawa Thursday; five days after the ground beneath them shook. Bettolli said he's never been so happy to return home from holidays.

"We were really scared -- right beside the bed waiting for the ceiling to fall; things shaking and more and more people screaming," he recalled.

Bettolli's plane was grounded before the earthquake hit, turning what was supposed to be a one-night layover into a nerve-racking five-day stay.

However, Bettolli was not alone. Richard and Susan Belanger were also supposed to leave Chile before the earthquake hit. They returned home on the same flight.

"You're looking at buildings that are cracked. If it starts to rumble again it could start to fall and no one can tell if it will happen or not," Richard Belanger told CTV Ottawa.

The 8.8-magnitude earthquake was so strong, scientists with NASA say it may have tipped the Earth's axis and shortened the length of a day.

Despite the chaos, travellers say local residents were quick to offer help, including supplies such as slippers, blankets and beds.

"They stayed, even if they didn't know if their families were okay," said Susan Belanger.

Another Air Canada flight is scheduled to leave Santiago Thursday night, with others expected to arrive home in the coming days.

The earthquake and the tsunami that followed killed at least 802 people. More than half a million homes were damaged or destroyed, and authorities say two million people were affected.

With a report from CTV Ottawa's Vanessa Lee and files from The Associated Press