Sunday, September 27, 2015


The best part of the 6.2 quake last night was the fellow outside yelling "YeeeHAAAA!"

If you've decided that you want to live in a city right above a major fault-line on the Ring of Fire, Chile is a good country to pick.

            There are a few things in our favor.
            First of all, the geology of Santiago is very different from places like Christchurch in New Zealand,  or Urayasu in Japan, where earthquake liquefy the ground and swallow buildings.
            Secondly, and very importantly, Chile possesses some of the most stringent earthquake building standards an anti-seismic regulations on the planet
            These stiff/rigid/inflexible (seriously, all of the options here are totally tasteless in this context) building standards permit us to rattle through earthquakes that would utterly level other cities.  Under normal circumstances, we laugh at anything below a 6.5. (It takes at least a 7.0 to catch our notice. Or a really shallow 6.4.  At least, that's what we pretend. In my experience, anything over a 6 has even hardened Chileans braced tightly into in their safe zones, waiting in silence for the awful shaking to stop, because is it going to stop at a 6-ish?  You just don’t know. And when it stops we walk around full of bravado saying "Pssshhhh.")
            The bravado has entirely and thoroughly worn through.  Last Wednesday's 8.3 earthquake left us strung like over-strained banjoes, and every good rattle since - 
            all of the many good rattles - 
            especially all the ones that happen in the middle of the night - 
            Have sounded to us like the soprano tones of  banjo-strings going "PLINK."
            On Monday, all of the last frayed strings went and let go for good. Monday was a rotten day.  We were woken up at 3 in the morning by a good, juicy 6.3.  A 5.0. hit around noonish, then a 6.5 at three in the afternoon, and then a 5.8 at four, and 5.7 at five in the evening - all of them on top of  the eight other sub-5s that gently rumbled us across the day - 
             A teacher friend and a young man coming home from school both reported classrooms full of panicked tears, and as for the grown-ups - 
            All of our philosophical shrugging and "good to get all the stress out in smaller ones, eh?  What else can you expect after a big earthquake?" gave way to a wide-eyed need for buttonhole everyone you vaguely know and ask "did you feel that one?  Did you feel that? Where were you?  When will it bloody-damn-all end?"
            And that question was solidly answered at four o'clock on Tuesday morning by a 6.1 that hit like an artillery blast.
            In our building, the person who has it worst in an earthquake is the concierge downstairs in the lobby.  The room is built with lots of big plate glass windows. After the 6.4 hit last year we waited it out next to the structural core, and then we remembered that we had guests coming in an hour and needed to nip out to the corner market to grab drinks.  (That's Chile for you.  A 6.4 earthquake hits and soon as it stops you snap your fingers and say "D'oh!  Soda!  You want coke or ginger ale?") 
           Down in the lobby, I  found the lady concierge sitting at her desk in a state of blank shock - when a quake hits, those windows go berserk - roaring and booming and billowing like waves - and the general effect is that of a freight train coming through the front door. 
            Last week's 8.3 was exponentially worse, and the poor man on duty was in a pretty bad way.  A resident sat with him and held his hands as the night rolled on and slowly drew him out of his shock,  but none of the night or day duty fellows have had a very nice time since.
            For all that, we're doing very well here, considering. I have a friend who lives on the 26th floor of a building in centro (the historical center of Santiago.)  She was in her apartment at the time of the 8.8 in 2010, so when last Wednesday happened, she figured that if the building had come through 2010 in one piece, she had nothing to worry about, so she dedicated herself to hanging on.
When the earthquake stopped, she and the other residents evacuated and down in the street she shared a few beers with the other 26th floor folks, and among them they found a brand new neighbor.  He had arrived in Chile from Egypt the day before.  

            Can you imagine? Your very first day in a brand new country, and an 8.3 earthquake hits while you're 26 storeys up. The poor man was certain he was going to die. 
            Every sway was one sway closer to the moment that the pendulum would stop and the building would fall and take him with it.  He didn't know how tightly Chileans build - he'd only just arrive! 
            Down on the street afterward, safe on solid ground (that wouldn't stay solid) the poor fellow was having a very bad time of it. They held his hands, and a big burly man from Ecuador wrapped him up in a bear hug and held him tight until he thought he might be alright to stand on his own once more.  
            As for my friend, the endless aftershocks at that height have entirely eroded her philosophical equanimity.  She's can't sleep at night because of 'when' and 'just in case', and her jolly memories of community solidarity down on the street have turned into phone calls at all sorts of hours about a dog. 
            "The damned dog. My neighbor's got a pug. You know how overweight those things can get, yeah? You know pugs have rotten hearts, right?  And buggered sinuses?  And basically anything, right, that makes an animal unfit for even walking?  We carried that damned dog back up 26 flights of stairs.  Do you have any idea how much an obese, under-exercised pug with a dicky heart can weight?! We traded off - every four floors we had to stop, and wait, and hand over a hairy heaving snorting snuffling ton of bricks.  And the damned building kept shaking and the damned dog kept wriggling and licking at my chin and I didn't need its bloody gratitude! I needed it to walk up those stairs on its bloody damned own!!"
            Her new next-door neighbor has decided to leave the country. 
            The concierges in our building are not only entirely out of strings, but the entire banjo has gone up in splinters.
            The rattling persists, and so do we, and I get another phone call: "Have I told you yet about the damned dog?"

No comments:

Post a Comment