Listening to Quakes

Most of the earthquake videos I’ve ever seen on TV, if not all, are silent black and white, low resolution, high grain CCTV footage. There’s rocking, drawers rolling in and out of cupboards – you’ve all seen that sort of thing. And it doesn’t really reflect what I’ve experienced in earthquakes.

The video below is from the Haiti quake. The report which accompanied it stated that the girl and her family all survived. The quake starts suddenly, and rattles on for about 20 seconds. That’s all it takes, 20 seconds. The bed jumps a lot, but when you look at it, it’s hard not to wonder how such an apparently minor shaking can kills tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people. I’ve been on more violent fairground rides.

Of course, the quake doesn’t kill people. Quakes bring down buildings, which are substantially less flexible and resistant to jolts than humans are, and they kill people. Earthquakes I’ve experienced have lasted anything from 10 seconds to about 40 seconds, with the most powerful being a 6.3. I think I mentioned that in a previous post. There was a little bit of shaking and rattling of furniture. The first I knew of it was when I realized that someone wasn’t leaning on the back of my sprung office chair. It was going back and forward by itself.

Then I noticed that the water in the turtle tank was sloshing quite vigorously from side to side. I grabbed the turts, put them into a bucket and headed out the front door, where the family and neighbours had gathered. About a half minute earlier. I’m told I shouldn’t have been waiting around to pick up the turts. They’re right. It takes 20 seconds to grab 10 turts. About the same time a quake takes to kill up to 200,000 people.

A lot of quakes are quite mild here. You might simply feel a little giddy, or drunk. Lose your balance just a tiny bit. It’s a weird feeling. If ever you’re here and you see people looking up at light fittings, which are swinging – you just lived through an earthquake. On the other hand, if you hear loud cracking noises….that’s the building you’re in taking the strain, and not dealing with it well. Get out. If it is a big one, that might be easier said than done. Quakes compress fixtures. Maybe the door you need to get through won’t open. That’s bad news in Mexico City where the alternative – the windows – are all barred for security.

The sound in this video is what counts. You can hear quakes. In the footage you can hear buildings collapsing. Then people screaming. Fortunately here, all I’ve heard is the hushed, excitable and concerned chatter of the neighbours. And then the earthquake siren, which comes on after the event more often than before it. Although, to its credit, it wailed a good 10 seconds before the 6.3 I mentioned earlier. To my discredit, when Paola told me the alarm was going, I told her not to worry about it, because out car doesn’t have an alarm…

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