The Big One

Earthquakes are part and parcel of Mexico City’s past, present and future. Some parts of the world wait for ‘the big one’. CDMX simply waits for another big one. The wait is never long. We did not have to worry much about relatives. The first we heard of the quake was just a couple of minutes after the event when Mrs P’s dad called to say he was ok. We had no reason till then to think he might not be. The remaining friends and Continue reading “The Big One”

#TBT The Angel of Angst


This week’s flash back is of the Angel of Independence. Well, her head. Her original head. Which is rather hidden away in a small room in the Centro Historico in Mexico City. Badly damaged (ie squashed) when the angel was brought crashing down to earth in an earthquake in the 50’s, her head was removed and replaced with a shiny new one.

Biblioteca Nacional

I found the Biblioteca Nacional (map no 45) having requested and received info about it’s location on a recent post. Thank you! The post featured a photo of the church taken in the 19th century. It really is a fantastic building, and a real shame that it’s closed off. But the earthquake in 1985 hit it hard. Apparently.

From the outside it looks ok. Far better in fact than many churched I’ve seen, some of which have the most monumental cracks in the masonry and lean at almost impossible angles. I hope there is a project afoot to return it to its former glory. It’s simply too grand to be allowed to rot.

Unfortunately, I arrived at the wrong time of day, and the one angle available to shoot the church had the sun shining right down my lens. None of the shots came out. I did take a few photos of other parts of the building where I could get out of the solar glare – click here.

Competing For Favour

The Head Of The Angel

Last year I left a comment on a blog, which told a brief story about the Angel of Independence and a Spanish Matador. Someone had mentioned in the comments that this was in fact the second angel to sit up there, after the original was destroyed having fallen from the column in a pretty large earthquake.

It isn’t actually a new angel. The original was restored and replaced. Although, months later, I happened to come across that post again and find myself corrected by a later visitor to the blog. Partially anyway.

It turns out that the head of the angel was replaced as the first had been damaged beyond repair, and now sits in a museum. But what wasn’t mentioned, was where. Last month I wrote about my vertigo inducing trip up to the balcony of the angel, which got a comment with more info on the whereabouts of the head. But web searches still didn’t turn up a definitive location.

I asked around and a student came up with a web site, which gave me a more exact location to search. And search I did yesterday afternoon, and I found the head, tucked inside a dark stone lobby of an old colonial building. I can see why a new head was ordered. I took a few photos, which you can see on Flickr – click here. And I have added the location to my Distrito Federal map.

Crushed Angel

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…

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The Earthquake Appeal

The residents of DF have been giving plenty for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. Either tinned goods and bottled waters, or their time and manpower in packing it. Trucks line up outside the Metropolitan Cathedral in the Zocalo, unloading and loading goods. Mexicans from DF have good reason to be generous. The picture on the right is one of many memorials to the massive 8.1 quake of 1985 that rocked this city and killed so many thousands of people. The final death toll from that tragedy will never been known. Everyone over the age of 30 has a story to tell from that December morning.

The photo below tells the story of Hotel Regis. It sat at one end of Alameda park, with Belles Artes sitting at the other. It came down during the quake, and then burned up due to a gas leak. Nothing bar a wall with a Rivera mural was left. Today it is a park, with the bust and plaque in the middle. If you’re wondering why I keep mentioning past earthquakes in Mexico City when there is such a terrible and present one in Haiti….that’s because the ‘E’ word always brings back both the reminders of the last big one here – and the next one.


A few days ago there was an earthquake. A 5.5 in California, which was a warm  up for a 6.3 in Eureka. A few online friends mentioned it on a forum, and I mentioned how unimpressed I was. A 5.5? Barely notice them in Mexico City. To be honest, given that these guys were from San Francisco, I was surprised they really noticed it.

A couple of days ago Haiti got an altogether bigger quake. But still, in Mexico City, there’s an air of astonishment that a quake measuring just 7 on Richter’s fascinatingly complex scale could do so much damage. But then, given that Mexico City gets hit with at least one 7 per decade whilst this was the most powerful quake in Haiti for two hundred years….

It also has to be said that the epicenter of Haiti’s quake was right next to the city – many of the tremors affecting us here happen out in the Pacific. Although we did get a 5.5  centred on Puebla last year which felt pretty strong for it’s Richter based size. But still…no damage to speak of. If a building here can’t take a 7, it doesn’t stay up for very long. Anyway…Eureka. Haiti. These things are supposed happen in threes? I’ll keep my fingers crossed that any third quake is small and well away from me.

But enough of Mexico. I’m told the Zocalo will be turned into a giant collection center on Saturday, for donations of food stuffs, preferably tinned foods I image, to be sent on to Haiti. It’s a good opportunity to spring clean, empty out cupboards, and dispose of the stuff you don’t want or bought by mistake in a helpful way. And maybe add a can or two of good stuff.

Earthquake Alert

Earthquakes are a fact of life in much of Mexico, with Mexico City particularly prone to devastation. Largely because a big chunk of the metropolis is built on a dried lake bed – the worst place imaginable to build a city as far as quakes go. I’ve experienced a few reasonably strong quakes. There have been plenty of them measuring 5 on the Richter scale, with a 6.3 about two years ago. A few months ago there was a 5.6 in the afternoon which hit with me sitting right here at my computer with Twitter open. I posted a tweet, saying that there was an earthquake. It felt as strong as the 6.3 in 2007, even though it was much less powerful. But the epicenter was a lot closer, hence the extra shaking.

If I feel a quake I’ll usually pop over the the USGS website which records all global quakes and will quickly tell you how strong it actually was. Today I came across an interesting project they are running, to get Twitter data from people living in zones where a quake has just struck. Interesting for several reasons, to me anyway. Firstly, because we have so many quakes here.  Secondly, because as I mentioned, I tweeted about an earthquake recently. I must have been one of the first people to tweet it, because I hit end as the quake was still doing its thang. To think, next time, my tweet could be contributing to the scientific community! But they’ll have a lot of dross to trawl through…a quick search of Twitter for ‘earthquake’ brings up quite a bit of rubbish!


We had a small earthquake today! All very exciting! I had gone to a coffee shop with Paola in the evening for a drink, having spent the afternoon eating in a Yucatan restaurant with her family, when it happened. It wasn’t that dramatic, and the city gets these minor tremors a few times a year. We were sat on a sofa when the earth just moved gently from side to side. You could distinctly feel it, and it went on for 10 to 20 seconds. The lights and loose hanging things stuck to the ceiling were swaying for a couple of minutes more.

Most Mexicans are pretty nervous about earthquakes after the 1985 disaster which killed anywhere between 10,000 and 30,000 people. I’m told there isn’t much to worry about unless you hear cracking noises. Paola and her family all survived the 1985 quake without injury, but she remembers it pretty well. Even today the scars are there to be seen – the huge parks around the Zocalo area weren’t always parks. They mark the spot were a good number of the 400 or so destroyed buildings stood.