Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sundays with Steve - Earthquake!

These Sunday's segments are written by my husband, Mr. Jenny. Here's what he has to say about his posts:

I’ve been writing these weekly stories about life in Northern Idaho, as a youngster and as growing into a young man, primarily for our family. And I'm delighted to share them with you. Just between us, I’m anticipating being cranky when some whipper-snapper who may not even be born yet harasses me in 30 years or so with 'Grandpa, tell me about when you were a boy.' That will probably be after the mad cow disease has set in and erased whatever memory is left. So these are the not-so-dramatic adventures of a Baby Boomer in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.


At three in the morning, the city is as quiet as it gets. The streets are empty, the night clubs are closed, the big wholesale markets are not yet open, the constant honking and the roar of car and truck engines are silent. Twenty -six million people sleep.

Until they are waken by a familiar roar, what sounds to be a parade of cement trucks making a mad dash through the city, in leading the charge of chaos they bring, loud enough to wake all, powerful enough to shake the very foundations of the city.

I hear the sliding glass door in my bedroom start to rattle, it opens onto the ninth floor balcony of the apartment where I live. Then it moves into shake mode, the door into the closet slams shut, the door out into the living room swings violently open, a picture on the wall falls to the floor. The sliding glass door is pushing at its frame, frantically trying to open itself, for the long fall to the ground below.

I know immediately what it is, everyone in the world’s third largest city knows what it is, just ten years ago 1,000 died from an earth quake just like this one, when buildings all-over Mexico City fell down, just collapsed, and some tall buildings like this apartment building I’m in, simply fell over on their sides. The photos of some of those buildings lying in the street, not in a piles but virtually intact, building eight or ten or twelve stories tall, lying in the street as if a giant had pushed them over , those photos scared the hell out of me when the building I am in is shaking to its very foundation.

Just two weeks before I was at work early one afternoon at the customer service call center I managed on behalf of several Mexico long distance telephone companies, when the building began to sway. We were on the eleventh floor, and this building was moving dramatically side-to-side. Following the disastrous 1988 quake, the city had upgrading its requirements for most buildings, putting tall buildings like the one I was in, on giant springs to absorb the shock. The quake that hit us that day -- a 6.0 centered a hundred miles away – swayed our building hard. The quake itself lasted just 50 seconds, but the building kept moving for almost five more minutes, like a kids’ swing that slows down after the last push, but keeps moving for a long time before it finally stops Our office building, and many like it in the city, did the same thing, they just kept swinging until the energy of their springs finally stopped the motion. I watched out of my office window in awe, as the city literally swayed before my eyes. Our 200 customer service agents stayed under their desks for another ten minutes, until I, as the bad Gringo, forced them back to work.

The first really significant earthquake I experienced was in the mid-1980s in Idaho, when I heard what I thought was a rambling heard of cement mixers coming down our quiet residential street. I jumped up from the breakfast table and ran to the front door. I saw the school bus outside of the house, picking up neighborhood children, but one of those, my stepdaughter, was running back home, screaming at the top of her lungs. I yelled at her not to go into the house, but she didn’t even slow down. What was remarkable that day were the waves rolling through the earth, like waves of water just under the soil, undulating, lifting the street at they passed, lifting a 100 foot pine tree as if it were a stick, lifting my two story brick house as if it were a play thing; three, maybe four waves moving through the earth at lightning speed. The quake was over in just seconds, maybe one half of a minute. There was no local damage that day, but it did shake up a lot of people, including my father, 400 miles away, who told me that it knocked him off his toilet. A school collapsed near the epicenter three hundred miles away. I flew over that region a few weeks later and I was amazed to see a crack in the earth that quake had created, a crack that from an airliner five miles in the sky, looked to stretch for miles, maybe twenty of them.

My Mexico City sliding glass door was insisting on jumping out of its frame that morning, there was a roaring sound in the neighborhood, much louder than any of the normal rush hour traffic, and I was thinking about those tall buildings in the quake a decade earlier that simply fell over into the streets. I wondered if I was going to go out that doorway to the balcony, and over the edge, nine floors down to the street, once the sliding glass door popped out of its frame and the building began to lean. Would this quake just shake me and my bed out that doorway, like salt being shaken out of shaker, into the street one hundred feet below? Would this building follow me down, crushing me like an ant under a shoe? Gulp.

The shaking stopped, my bed did not jump out the doorway, and I took a deep breath, just another earth quake, I thought, just like the one several weeks ago, just like the next one that will come very soon. Just another day in my life as a Gringo in paradise. I lived in Mexico City for about five years, and probably experienced 30 major quakes in that time. "Don’t worry", said my friends, "You'll get used to the earth quakes." "Yes, right, of course," I said, "I'm sure that I will."

But I thought to myself, "No, that is probably never going to happen." And it didn't.

(c) 2010 Stephen J. MatlockThis publication is the exclusive property of Stephen J. Matlock and is protectedunder the US Copyright Act of 1976 and all other applicable international, federal, state and local laws. The contents of this post/story may not be reproduced as a whole or in part, by any means whatsoever, without consent of the author, Stephen J. Matlock. All rights reserved.


Ames said...

I find earthquakes a very scary thing. When I lived in Monterey California for a brief period of time I experienced one earthquake that moved me from one end of my couch to the other, the metal blinds flew away from the window and slammed back down against them. Car alarms were going off everywhere, I hadn't a clue what just happened. Being from Florida the only act of nature I had ever experienced was a Hurricane.

Now I have an application on my Droid phone that alerts me to all earthquakes around the world. For some reason this old earth is doing a lot of rocking and rolling now. What is to become of all these disasters happening one after another.

I don't ever want to experience any earthquake like the magnitude that you have. I already have a rule about staying in rooms above the second floor in a hotels as it is. And that is because of fires.Paranoid? More like forehand knowledge. ~Ames

Ms. A said...

I thank my lucky stars this isn't something I have had to get used to!

Judie said...

Steve, I remember that Mexico earthquake. Rod was still working, and Mexico was part of his territory. Fortunately, he was not there when it occurred.

While we were living in Memphis there were several earthquakes that occurred on the New Madris fault in Missouri. Of course, we felt them. There were even some that occurred when we were living in Atlanta. I remember being awakened early one morning by an earthquake. It took me a couple of minutes to realize what was happening. Later that morning, we received news that a tank farm had been damaged and there were raging oil fires. It took several days to put those out. Those were withing a couple of miles of my house.

Bargain Decorating with Laurie said...

There is no way I could ever get used to earth quakes. How horrible to live with so many of them that you get used to them. Did your father really fall off the toilet? A little humor in the middle of a quake. Enjoyed reading this. laurie @ Battling My Inner Critic

Caroline said...

Earthquakes are so freaky. It's like havin' the shakes but not actually shaking. That's how I felt when we had a small one here in Arkansas. The quake was due to drilling for gas and things of that nature. They stopped once the drilling stopped. At one point there were at least 14 quakes in one day in the Greenbrier area. It was frightening.

H said...

No, I don't think I would ever get used to them either. I've only ever experienced one quake and that was a mini baby one; just a slight rattling of the dresser and shaking of a mirror, then all over. That was quite unsettling enough though! I like terra firma to be just that!