Published: March 2nd 2010February 28th 2010
A good sturdy house
Casa Verde Limon, where we rode out the quake. A good sturdy house, over a hundred years old. Full of beautiful art and friendly people - can't recommend it enough.
When the shaking started, I was out of bed and pulling on my pants before even realizing consciously that I was moving. I suppose I wasn't fully asleep anyways, as Vanessa had climbed over me a few minutes before to go to the bathroom. But the thing that I notice most, thinking back on it, was that I was moving automatically, without thinking, largely because I seemed incapable of thinking. I opened the door and stood in the doorway for a few seconds when Vanessa came back. She asked, "What should we do? Should we go outside?" and I have to commend her for being able to speak in full sentences. In response all I could manage to blurt out was "Doorway! Doorway!" and demonstrate by standing in the doorway of our room and leaning against the jamb (I have since learned that this whole business of standing in a doorway is a bit of a myth, and that you should get under the sturdiest thing you can find. But I still like the doorway theory. At least the wall can´t fall on your head). So we stood there in the doorway with the floor, the walls, the whole house jittering
like someone had put the thing on a truck and was driving a little fast over a dirt road. Actually, it felt almost exactly like moderate airplane turbulence.
I have absolutely no idea how long we stood there. Afterwards I guessed at least twenty and maybe forty seconds, but honestly, it was like my brain had shut down. I don´t remember thinking anything. I spoke to another girl in our hostel who talked about thinking a bunch of things, including that she was going to die, and why do people bother spending money on things like houses when they can just be wiped away in an instant, and a few other things in the same vein. I have no idea what she is talking about. At best, all I can remember is observing the feeling of the floor moving beneath my feet, sort of jiggling back and forth (not up and down) in a way that no floor should be able to do. And then feeling that it was going on for a very long time, and that that probably wasn´t good, and aren´t earthquakes supposed to last just a few seconds?
When the jiggling finally stopped, we
agreed quickly that we should get the hell out. My body had received such a massive dose of adrenaline, I had a hard time just picking up a shirt, putting on my flip flops, and locking our door (funny the little habits that stick with you). My hands were actually shaking pretty badly for about the next ten minutes. Outside, people poured out of their houses and for a few minutes people were running by in either direction, probably going to check on loved ones. But after that everyone just kind of hung out on the street for about 45 minutes, and then most of them started heading off to bed.
After awhile, we started getting cold and decided we'd head off to bed too. Unfortunately, I seem to have a pretty strong reaction to the ground shaking: for the next hour, about every ten minutes, the whole house would start rattling, and although each time only lasted about 2 to 5 seconds, that was still enough for my body to deliver another healthy dose of adrenaline, so no sleeping for me. So instead we decided to get up and go for a walk. Outside, there were still a
number of families who had decided to start fires and spend the night staying warm out on the street. But on the whole, most people were taking it all in stride and had headed off to bed, which is exactly what we did when I was exhausted enough to overrule the adrenaline.
It was only the next morning that we found out that it had been one of the biggest earthquakes ever and had a magnitude of about 7 where we were. I have to salute the Chileans: these people eat earthquakes for breakfast. Anywhere else, a 7 would mean collapsed buildings, hundreds if not thousands dead, water, gas and power disruptions, and a general state of chaos. In Valparaiso, there was one neighbourhood with some facades and walls collapsing, there were 4 dead (in a metropolis of half a million), and other than the power being off, life continued more or less as normal.
There is one more thing: all the next day, people (Chileans and gringos) were asking me "Was I scared?" And I had to answer no, I wasn't scared, largely because I couldn't think. The adrenaline had wiped out the rational part of my brain, and I was pretty much going on autopilot until it was over and we were outside. There was no emotional reaction either, really, other than that I was unusually grim and intense for a few minutes afterwards as I was trying to decide whether we were safe and if there was something we should be doing.
But it has since occurred to me, maybe that's what being really scared is like. I mean, my life hasn't afforded me any opportunities to experience real fear, like the kind that would come from an imminent threat to your existence. Maybe that is exactly what it is like. Anybody know?