Since I arrived in Chile and especially since I got to Isla Negra on the central coast, I’ve been surrounded by sounds. I arrived in Chile on March 7th, one week later than scheduled. My flight had been postponed due to the movement of the Earth’s crust, no less. In the early morning of February 27th, Chile suffered a massive earthquake which surged to 8.8 on the Richter scale, many times stronger than the seismic tragedy that struck the people of Haiti in January.
Reports, both personal and official, cite that the ground in central and southern Chile shook for about 2 minutes. When one considers this quickly, two minutes does not seem very long. Years ago, I might have been guilty of thinking a similar thought. When I last visited my family in Chile, no less than 3 tremors sent waves through this part of the planet. Two were very short, maybe 5 or 6 seconds. One, however, lasted longer and shook the ground in waves that moved my chair from side to side seemingly without end. In truth, the “sismo” probably lasted 10 or 15 seconds. But now I know what it is to feel that an earthquake is never-ending.
What I didn’t remember from last time, but what my grandpa and my Uncle Ignacio made sure I knew about, was the sound, which brings out the true sense of what it means to live through an earthquake. The amount of noise was incredible, they explained, which is only natural when you consider that every last object, the building you sit in, and everything that surrounds you begins to vibrate with telluric force.
Television in Chile has been broadcasting videos from up and down the country, eye witnesses to the strength of the quake and the panic it incited. And within 4 days of arriving in Chile, we’d already felt 3 or 4 tremors, ripples of the original giant.
On March 11th, I heard the sound again: the slow and sinuous rumble that made people in the region think that a second earthquake was underway. A 7.2 on the Richter scale caused many to believe the aftershock was much more. I’ve thought, at times, about what exactly would be the most compromising position to be in when an earthquake hits. On the 11th I believe I was in it: on the toilet.
As I sat there and spoke to my dad through the door, I felt relieved, knowing at least that I was pretty well done my work and could pull up my pants and jump outside without major incident. Though the seismic event lasted maybe 20 seconds, I had no clear indication that it was not the beginning of the worst circumstance, but only the rumbling sound and the temporary movement of my throne room.