(Yet Another) Fracking Earthquake in Mexico City

You know you live in a seismically psychotic area when this page from the U.S. Geological Survey is one of your more-visited bookmarks. Note the URL of the link — quakes_big.php.

So yeah, another month, another earthquake. Today’s was a 5.7 in the eastern state of Puebla, about two hours from here. (The temblor in April was to the west, and of a similar strength). It was deep down in the earth, which somehow lessens the damage potential of quakes, although things still sway like a drunkard at last call.

During today’s quake, it went something like this:

1. Me sitting at computer, editing an article on bipolar disorder. My 5th-floor apartment seemed to be moving — more than it usually does when heavy trucks go by. (Yes, they cause a vibrational swaying in my apartment, fun fun fun). I’m thinking: Quake, or truck? Quake, or truck? …..QUAKE.

2. I then hear a banging sound and I suddenly feel very dizzy — the world is moving. I yell “Pati?” — our housekeeper — and find her in the hallway. She takes off her headphones, stops walking, feels the more-than-usual swaying and hears the banging, and we look at each other. Sismo! our faces say. I immediately do a series of retarded things, since standing there feels useless:

  • I get my dog, who is conveniently already ready for transport in his carrier (he goes there when Pati visits).
  • I grab my purse. I put on shoes (so I can go outside, and also really bad earthquakes can cause a lot of broken glass).
  • I open our front door (I have fears of quakes causing the earth to move and all the doors/windows in house jamming shut).

3. Pati — who admittedly, as a local, is beyond acquainted with earthquakes — doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. I ask her what we should do. She says it’s safer to stay in here than go downstairs. We have this conversation while the building keeps moving. I realize she’s right, although many people go outside after a quake, for fear of buildings collapsing.

4. The quake stops and that’s when my adrenaline comes rushing. I can barely speak b/c I’m now really feeling scared, but I tell her to call her kids using our phone (cell phones weren’t working). They’re OK.

5. Assessing that we’re OK, her kids are OK, and the world basically seems OK, I get back online, and precede to freak out, shaking with adrenaline. About 10 minutes later, the USGS posts the data on the quake, and Pati and I discuss how “fuerte” the quake felt.

What I still don’t understand, after experiencing approximately 5 earthquakes in under two years in Mexico is: How is it that an earthquake can feel so vividly powerful, yet not cause one thing to fall in the entire apartment? This goes without saying, but I simply can’t imagine the cataclysmic earthquake of 1985. As my friend Jonathan reminded me today, if my building, which was built in 1960, withstood that quake, it’s pretty damn strong. All the sway means it’s actually well-built — it (probably) won’t snap during the whiplashing.

I wish that were more comforting.

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