Yesterday, as we were sitting down playing Settlers of Catan, the table began to shake. At first, I thought it might have been a restless teenage son but quickly I began to realize it was much more. The building jerked, a plate or two fell, and as the robber danced on the game board, we all jumped up to find a safe place to stand. It was an earthquake.
I have experience with earthquakes. Living so many years in California it would be impossible not too. This quake was not the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989. It was shorter and not as strong. But we didn’t know that at first. We had no clue how far away the epicenter had been. And we all wondered if it might have been one of the many volcanoes in the area sending warning.
As the shaking settled and we gathered our wits, we all headed for electronic equipment to share the news, find out the magnitude and the damage, and to put on shoes. The latter was my idea. I was afraid this was just a precursor and wanted everyone ready to walk out the door if need be.
We knew from looking outside that this was a dangerous quake… the valley below had turned into a cloud of dust and it was my husband who said landslides. And he was right. North of the city, a vehicle was covered by falling debris but the driver escaped unharmed. Friends of ours were evacuated from apartment buildings while structures were checked for damage. Bridges were closed for a short time. The airport stopped flights for about an hour. Traffic was snarled all over town. And the dust cloud to the north and in the valley below Cumbaya kept growing larger and larger while all of this was going on.
The BBC reports three deaths from yesterday; two workers and a young child (it is common for children to play near their working parents) were killed by falling sacks of rice. Four quarry workers are still missing in Catequilla, after a landslide in the region. And this was “only” a 5.1 on the Richter scale.
Since yesterday afternoon, we have felt several aftershocks. There is something unsettling about the earth moving without warning, even when you know several small quakes are a good sign that the earth is releasing pressure slowly. It makes a large quake much less likely. But tell that to our bodies that are now primed to jump at every wiggle and shake, whether it be my knee hitting the desk a little hard, a strong wind hitting the side of the building, or an actual earthquake.
My mind keeps wandering back to the third floor of the Student Union at San Francisco State University, glass walls shaking as if they were about to shatter, people scattering to the four winds looking for shelter, a woman screaming “Get away from the glass, get away from the glass” and my heart pounding while my head tried to wrap itself around the disaster happening around me. It’s a memory I would prefer to do without – the panic, the lack of control, the inability to do much more than wonder how much stronger the shaking will get. A small quake here in Quito make me remember 1989 almost like it was yesterday.