Living in an Earthquake Zone

I live in Guatemala, where we frequently experience “seismic activity,” which is to say that the earth ceases to be bedrock, the room shakes like it’s 3am, and those of us who have never lived in regions prone to such attacks start to understand what it’s like to fear the ground you walk on.

By telling you this so soon after the devastating quake in Haiti, I am, of course, not trying to gain some sort of sick credibility — quite the opposite.  My life is nothing like those living in Haiti, neither is Guatemala similarly primed for the level of destruction that hit Haiti last week.

Guatemala suffered a 7.5 magnitude earthquake in 1976 that left roughly 23,000 people dead, mostly those living in adobe-style houses surrounding the capital. In the years following the quake, buildings were rebuilt to code and adobe was largely abandoned. Guatemala had the resources to do so. Haiti did not following its repeated battering by hurricanes in 2008 and by pretty much everything before that.  Hundreds of thousands of Haitians were essentially living in rumble with no support system, and it just collapsed on them.

This is all to say that, when the quake hit Guatemala on Monday, friends of mine ran under doorways, but, for the most part, the terror that surely spread through Haiti when the earth started shaking didn’t hit Guatemala, even though images of Haiti were surely in their heads.  Though they didn’t know it at the time, Haiti’s quake was 10 times more powerful, based on the logarithmic Richter scale. None were hurt, and there was no structural damage.  In fact, I returned from Mexico in the late afternoon and didn’t even know anything had happened until I checked my email to find concerned emails from family and friends. Nobody had bothered to mention it during the cab ride home or during lunch. In other words, nothing much to report from Guatemala.