Tag Archives: earthquakes

Two Brothers, Two Earthquakes

Rescue workers working through piles of rubble in Mexico City in 2017 (left) and helping a victim in 1985 (right). (AP Images)

Jesus Jimenez | Longreads | October 2017 | 13 minutes (3,155 words)

September 19 started out as a tranquil, but eerie day in Mexico City. The sun rose at 7:24 a.m. over the Popocatépetl volcano and onto the homes and offices and workplaces of the city’s nearly 8.9 million residents.

That Tuesday morning, commemorations were being held throughout the city. It was the 32nd anniversary of the 8.1 magnitude earthquake that killed more than 5,000 people in Mexico’s capital in 1985, causing 412 buildings to collapse and more than $3 billion in damages. Mexican law states that all schools and public institutions are required to hold earthquake safety drills every September 19. Some places choose to practice their safety drills earlier in the morning to avoid interfering with their work or school days, while others participated in the national earthquake drill scheduled for 11 a.m.

Just after 1 p.m., my uncle Ángel Jiménez was walking to the local market to buy some fresh produce. He pulled out a note on his phone to double-check his grocery list before turning it off to conserve the remainder of its low battery life. As he put his phone away, a peculiar thought popped into his head. If an earthquake ever happened again, I don’t care what happens to me. I’d be OK knowing my wife and two kids are safe.

“It was a one of those crazy thoughts,” Jiménez says. “It was one of those things you feel silly for even allowing it to pop into your head. At the time, I didn’t think of it as a premonition.”

At 1:14 p.m. the supermarket started shaking. Initially the shaking didn’t scare Ángel. Mexico City is in a subduction zone, which means the oceanic Cocos plate is slowly sinking under the continental North American plate, making Mexico prone to earthquakes. On February 5, 2012, a 4.8 magnitude earthquake shook Guerrero, Mexico, 218 miles from the nation’s capital. On May 6, 2013, a 4.1 magnitude earthquake struck Puebla, Mexico, 82 miles southeast of Mexico City. Earlier in the month, on Sept. 7, a deadly 8.1 magnitude earthquake hit offshore Chiapas, Mexico killing at least 90 people and damaging hundreds of homes and buildings.

Although earthquakes don’t happen every day, Ángel and the people of central Mexico are familiar with slight tremors. Ángel is blind, but he doesn’t use a walking stick, nor does he have a service dog. He didn’t think running out of the market would be a wise idea if he couldn’t see where he was going, so Ángel held onto one of the counters. He wanted to take cover under the counter, but his muscled, 5-foot-9-inch frame couldn’t fit. At first Ángel thought something was wrong with the counter, as if something was loose.

“It felt like a light tremor, then there was a sudden jerking pull,” Ángel says. Within a matter of seconds the shaking turned from innocent and forgettable to forceful and historic. It would be hours before Ángel would learn that the shaking came from a 7.1 magnitude earthquake about three miles northeast of Raboso, Mexico, 70 miles southeast of Mexico City.

As the shaking intensified, Ángel had flashbacks to the devastation that occurred 32 years ago. He’d been here before. Read more…

Should You Keep Having Sex During a 9.0 Earthquake, and Other Pressing Questions

Photo by Maëlick

If you’ve been too scared to read this week’s New Yorker story on the apocalyptic earthquake that’s threatening to destroy the Pacific Northwest, here’s a lighter take from Dan Savage, who had a short conversation with Seattle author Sandi Doughton about her 2014 book Full-Rip 9.0: The Next Big Earthquake in the Pacific Northwest and how worried we should really be:

The New Yorker quotes a FEMA official who says that “everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast.” So all of us up here on Capitol Hill—we can see I–5 from here but we’re to the east of it—are going to fine, right? We don’t have anything to worry about, right?

You’ll be bruschetta—more refined, but equally toasted.

It’s true that the shaking weakens with distance from the fault, but I wouldn’t count on that tiny margin to save you. What I think the FEMA official meant is that a lot of our infrastructure in Western WA—utilities, roads, some bridges, brick buildings—will be wrecked, and access to the coast will be cut off.

I’m kind of disappointed you didn’t ask me about sex! But, sadly, I probably know more about earthquakes.

You want a bonus sex question? Let’s say two people are having sex when the full rip 9.0 megaquake hits. Should they stop and take cover? Or should they keep going because this might be the last time they ever get to have sex? Would your advice be different if they were, say, on top of Capitol Hill versus in a cabin on the beach in Seaside, OR?

On Capitol Hill, in a relatively new building with no chandelier or mirror or glass light fixture hanging over the bed, I say carry on. The motion from the quake might be a pleasing addition. In Seaside, give it up, put on your shoes and run for your life because the tsunami is coming.

Read the interview

If the ‘Big One’ Hits Seattle

In the New Yorker, Kathyrn Schulz describes the horrific devastation that would occur if a massive earthquake hit the Pacific Northwest. Scientists have calculated the odds of the big Cascadia earthquake occurring in the next 50 years as “roughly one in three.” Here’s a description of what might happen to Seattle:

The shaking from the Cascadia quake will set off landslides throughout the region—up to thirty thousand of them in Seattle alone, the city’s emergency-management office estimates. It will also induce a process called liquefaction, whereby seemingly solid ground starts behaving like a liquid, to the detriment of anything on top of it. Fifteen per cent of Seattle is built on liquefiable land, including seventeen day-care centers and the homes of some thirty-four thousand five hundred people. So is Oregon’s critical energy-infrastructure hub, a six-mile stretch of Portland through which flows ninety per cent of the state’s liquid fuel and which houses everything from electrical substations to natural-gas terminals. Together, the sloshing, sliding, and shaking will trigger fires, flooding, pipe failures, dam breaches, and hazardous-material spills. Any one of these second-order disasters could swamp the original earthquake in terms of cost, damage, or casualties—and one of them definitely will. Four to six minutes after the dogs start barking, the shaking will subside. For another few minutes, the region, upended, will continue to fall apart on its own. Then the wave will arrive, and the real destruction will begin.

Read the story