Sunday, January 10, 2010

Earthquake Experience

The 6.5 earthquake that recently hit 20 something miles offshore of Eureka, California, and the television responses to the shaking and quaking, remind me of the only quake of which I've been a part.

I accompanied a large group of high school students to Mexico City one Easter holiday. Oh, it was in the late 1980's. Even before we left there were reported rumbles from the interior of Mexico, and I guess we teachers felt nothing could harm us as we proceeded with our trip via bus and plane into D. F. without making any "What If" plans. I alone had checked up on earthquakes and on what to do if one should occur. On the second night in the hotel I was awakened by glass bottles falling in the bathroom and an undulating feeling rushing through my body in bed at 2a.m. I knew instinctively to get up and check the kids.

Moving about in the few minutes after the big rumble wasn't easy. I threw on my bathrobe and started with the adjacent rooms, waking up students and urging them to use the stairs and assemble on the bottom floor. I could imagine the top floors crumbling any minute. A few doors opened and we all formed a line one behind the other, holding onto some part of clothing of the person before us.

The lobby was filling up quickly. When I saw we still had students missing I made one more round to the sixth floor, muscling my way up the stairs now more crowded. No amount of knocking would arouse anyone--if there were anyone--in the rooms. I gave up and returned to the lobby. As we huddled around one sofa we looked around and saw a couple entirely shrouded in sheets. Ah ha! we thought. Caught in the act!

Word spread that the epicenter was near Acapulco. The quake recorded at 5.6 on the Richter Scale. Whispers resounded off the walls with talk of where folks were going next. We sat through several aftershocks, discussing the event and assuring those young women who couldn't take adversity. When the all clear came, I saw each young lady back to her room. The guys took care of themselves, laughing as though nothing serious had occurred minutes before. As I walked up and down the hallway on floor six, doors to rooms from which I couldn't arouse anyone flew open. Confessions flooded my ears. "We were just sitting around talking, Mrs. N. and were afraid you'd get onto us if you discovered we were together." "I knew what to do, Mrs. N., I hid in the closet." It seems some guys were visiting in the girls' rooms(a forbidden rule at that time) and decided it was better to stay huddled together in the room rather than risk the wrath of a teacher. What stories they told the remainder of the year!

The next day I accompanied a group on an excursion to the downtown area of Mexico City. We were stunned at what an earthquake does to a city several hundreds of miles from the epicenter. Sidewalks had buckled up, much like what we see in the south when excessive dry weather wreaks havoc. Some buildings were leaning towards the street one and two feet. Fortunately, the hotel we were staying in had been built with a rocker foundation, so the only damage was to a three-story window. Outside the adjacent buildings were leaning forward a couple of feet beyond our hotel. We felt safer just seeing the effects on other structures. Glass was everywhere and we made a lot of detours off the main avenue. Office workers on upper floors spent time looking out the windows unmindful of their safety inside,chatting with passers by. Within 24 hours the city streets were clean and with exception of crowds of people vying for taxis and buses, normalcy began to return.

The local newspaper in our town found out the school group was in mid Mexico so my family was interviewed. My son was quoted as saying, "Mother knows how to take care of herself, so we aren't worried." Calling home was impossible as all phone lines were inoperable. With his remark I hoped the families of my students felt comfortable knowing their children were in the hands of a calm leader. Many parents took it in stride while only a few demanded their children leave immediately. Unfortunately, with hoards of people leaving the capital city, getting a ride to the airport was a task. Only one student got to the airport at the inconvenience of a our American bus driver(who stayed with us the entire trip)and flew home, but it took all day. The remaining parents allowed their children remain with us. And they had the best time ever.I'll bet they, too, upon reading about the latest California earthquake were reminded of their own experience in Mexico City.

1 comment:

20th Century Woman said...

That is an interesting story. But now we have the earthquake in Haiti, so much more terrible and destructive. It certainly makes a difference how buildings are constructed.