Monday, June 8, 2009

Shakin' Bacon

May 28, 2:24 AM
I am awakened by noise and the shaking of my bed. My first thought is my hotel room is on the bumpy road to the village. Then in sudden awareness, I said to my roomies, "Guys, I think we're having an earthquake." I was not so much warning them as I was wanting to make sure they didn't miss the action. It would be a shame to sleep through it. Heck, it was my first earthquake ever.

In perhaps five more seconds it was over. The power went out for a second or two, then the hotel's generator kicked in and the power was back. I got up and went outside to check on everything and everyone. First I went to the cabin we affectionately called "the ladies room". All five (by that time, only four) of our girls stayed in Cabin 1. They had a private bedroom and a kitchenette and living area, not to mention the best AC in the entire hotel, so we had a lot of meetings there. ("We'll meet in five minutes in the ladies room. Chuckle chuckle.") I stood quietly outside their door listening for talking and looking for lights, but it was quiet and dark, so I assumed they slept through it. (I found out later they were awake and sleepless for hours afterward!)

I met the hotel owners, Helen and her husband, in the open air restaurant, and soon Ryan and a couple of the guys came out with us. Ryan's room was on the second floor, above the restaurant, and they had felt it swaying. I went to the beach, but it was quiet. That's when I had my first thought about tsunamis. Our rooms were within shouting distance of the water.

There didn't seem to be any damage to anyone or anything at the hotel, not even broken dishes or pictures fallen off the walls, so I went back to sleep. In the back of my mind, as I dozed, I formed a vague emergency plan to evacuate the students to higher ground should there be signs of a tsunami, like... a tsunami.

In the morning I called The M to have her check the news to find out where the epicenter was, and how strong it was. It was north of Roatan, approximately 69 miles NNE of us with a magnitude of 7.1! No wonder we felt it! In a burst of cleverness, I called Becky, the head of University Missions and told her what happened and that we were all OK. I figured she might be getting some calls from worried parents. But my cleverness was used up for the morning, and I forgot to call my own mother, who heard about it on the news and was quite worried - until she called Becky's people herself. Sorry Mom!

There was an actual tsunami warning (I didn't even know they issued tsunami warnings!) the next day, but it was cancelled by mid morning. Teresa, one of our team who had to leave early, kept me informed via text messaging from the US as she watched CNN.

Curiously, we found that while folks from the city, such as Sergio and ourselves, were very excited about the "tiera moto" the next day, when we got to the village the people were rather indifferent. I imagine they thought "I built my houses, if it falls down, I'll fix it" only in Spanish. They don't care when the power goes out... wait, there is no power.

Later we found out that there was a lot of damage in the city San Pedro Sula, even though it was farther from the epicenter. Chalk it up to differences in soil or something. I don't know, ask someone who remembers geophysics. A bridge was destroyed in a town west of La Ceiba called El Progresso. I guess they won't be progresso-ing at quite the same pace now. The bridge is made of two parts, an old one (which collapsed) and a new part made by the Japanese government which, curiously, builds a lot of bridges in Honduras for reasons unknown to me.

Since the big one, there have been lots of little aftershocks and tremors. I don't really know what the difference is between an aftershock and a tremor, despite that graduate-level course in geophysics I had to take. Perhaps an aftershock is what happens when you're working on the power lines after they turn the power back on. Then a tremor happens as you realize your close encouter with death. Hypothetically speaking.

Anyway, earthquakes with magnitude greater than 4.5 are recorded on the US Geological Survey's website, and I have been watching them. There have been several subsequent earthquakes, and there was another large one yesterday off the coast near La Ceiba. There have also been several in the vicinity of the villages where we work.

I did a little reading about earthquakes on Wikipedia (SOAK) not because I couldn't remember my geophysics class, but because... because... ok, I couldn't remember. I did recall that an earthquake with magnitude 7.0 has ten times the vibrational amplitude as one with a 6.0. But what I found really interesting was the energy released by earthquakes!

An earthquake with magnitude 7.1 releases the energy of 50 million tons of TNT!! That is on par with the largest nuclear weapon ever tested! It was almost double the energy of 1989 San Fransisco earthquake, the Loma Prieta. There are only about 18 earthquakes, annually, that fall into the 7.0-7.9 range, over the whole world! Who would want to sleep through that?

1 comment:

Leisel said...

dude. you're like a genius. and a funny one at that! had fun catching up on your blog...LOVED the pic of the M.