Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Rains Bring Disaster in Northern Chile

The rains might have been welcome, and pleasurable, here in Santiago, but on the coast and in the north of Chile they've brought disaster.
            The Atacama desert is - normally - one of the driest places on earth, with an average annual rainfall of just 15 ml.  It is so dry that wet doesn't register as a potential state of being.  When we lived in Antofagasta, and we did get a few drops of rain, the interior walls of buildings would be peppered with rain-spots, because nobody noticed the cracks in the roof and the walls.  (Earthquake zones do that.)
            Up there in the north, even a few drops of rain can be a problem.  The dry earth forms a thick layer of dust, and without plants to break down the surface rock, water doesn't soak into the ground; it sits on the top of the ground and forms a muddy slurry, and when the drops turn into a rainfall, and when they fall on a slope, the slurry gives way under its own weight and you get landslides.
            In 1991, not too long before we moved there, a storm had caused a slide to come roaring through - unheralded, in the middle of the night - and taken out a whole group of houses, with the inhabitants inside.  
            This week the rain tracked unexpectedly north, and the heavy, southern-suitable rains are doing the same thing - gathering into a thick muddy slurry and pouring through towns. At least six people are dead across Chile, and clear skies down here in Santiago feel like a heck of a price to pay for all that.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Gustery, Blustery, Oooooooh....

This winter has been a rotten one for Santiago. With the exception of a storm on the 12th of July, we've had almost no rain at all. The occasional apologetic drizzle doesn't count for much, and day by day the air has gotten fouler and fouler and measured in how far the amber air-quality alert shades into emergency-red and by which license plates are allowed on the road in today's restricción vehicular.
            It's been absolutely awful.  Nobody in the city has dared to hope for more; we've been continually promised breaks in the weather, but the sheer act of hoping has caused the clouds to perversely shear off and go somewhere else. Anywhere else.
            But this week it happened.
            Mum called me on Monday.  "The satellite says you're getting rain this week." 
            "It's going to be enormous. The temperature is going to drop, and then it's going to pour-" 
            "I'll believe it when I'm walking through it. Seen any good films lately?" 
           "-and it's going to last for days.  Aren't you excited?" 
            "Of course I'm not excited!  We've been refusing to get excited about it for days now!  Stop talking! If you keep talking, you'll scare it away!" 
            Mum kept talking, but somehow, the rain still came. Not even the weight of seven million tentative, tremulous enthusiasms turned it from racing straight toward Santiago, and when it hit, it hit hard. 
            First the wind, howling and snarling, and then the rain, bursting through bedroom windows and flooding roads and overpasses
            That was Wednesday. Thursday was bigger than Wednesday, and Friday was bigger than Thursday, and I sat in in our living room with the whole apartment sealed tight and the curtains swelled and billowed while winds came whistling through through -
            The reality of life in an earthquake zone is that a sealed building envelope is more of a concept than an actual thing. Every quake shifts doors and windows subtly out of alignment with the walls, and the cumulative effect is - well, in big storms, it's actually rather fun. 
            Today, the fourth day of the storm, was a howling torment. The curtains on the (sealed) living room windows billowed and snapped. The venetian blind on the (sealed) bathroom window clattered so loudly we wound it all the way up and then we stuffed a sock between the (closed) bathroom door and the door frame to stop the slamming door driving us irretrievably demented. Outside it poured and blew, and we went back to bed with books.
            Sometime around four it stopped. Just stopped. The clouds blew away and the sky turned cerulean and a golden light illuminated a world that for once was fresh and clear and bright clean out to the mountains, which stood up stark and crisp and heavy with snow.
            It was magical.
            And half an hour ago the clouds came back in and the wind began to rise and the trees are bending and the evening is flat and grey - not evening dark but storm dark.  Heaven.