Thursday, 28 May 2009
O.k. I'm new at the blogging thing, and a little flaky. But this story is worth telling. So, I'm in Honduras doing my PhD in disaster risk to hurricanes. All day long, I think about the things that make people vulnerable to massive Atlantic tropical storms. But last night at 3:24 I was thrown a curve ball: a massive 7.1 earthquake.
I had just gotten up to go to the bathroom, and was back in bed settling into sleep again. Suddenly, the bed starts bouncing. The Persian windows start rattling furiously. And the low, ominous rumbling begins. Two thoughts race into my head. As a Californian, I know a little bit about earthquakes. You take cover in doorways or in open areas outside. As a risk researcher in Latin America, I know that the favoured construction methods (cinderblock and cement) aren't very resilient to impacts. (In 2001 I had experienced an earthquake in Peru that had left extensive and acute damage.) These two ideas produce a miniature panic attack.
Our computer table is swaying. I pull Desirae out of bed - she still doesn't know what's going on - and start the panicky push toward the front door. Desi had dead-bolted the door and hidden the key. The ground beneath us is bouncing. Desi, still in the fog of sleep, is fumbling with the keys, while I, shot through with adrenaline, prepare myself to kick down the front door. Desi opens the door about the time the shaking stops. We walk out side on the balcony, and the city's power blinks. A huge blue flash comes from the direction of the city centre, then the power comes back on.
As we waited for aftershocks on the balcony, my initial thought was that somewhere, surely, loads and loads of people had been affected, injured and killed. Our internet was down, so I was unable to check the USGS website for seismic activity. Warily, we went back to sleep. A few hours later, a small tremor woke me up again.
At 8:00 a.m. reports about the damage come in. To my surprise, this huge earthquake left only minor human casualties. (As of 12 hours beyond the event, 5 deaths have been reported across the entire country.) I am a hurricane specialist, so I have to admit, I know very little about patterns of impact with respect to earthquakes, but I am shocked that Honduras has been so resilient. The cosmic irony in all of this is that I'm here studying massive hurricanes and along comes a massive earthquake.