Quetzaltenango San Marcos

On shaking grounds

As I am writing this blog post, news messages keep pooring in. 26 dead, 58 dead, 60 dead. Another earthquake, thousands of people without electricity. A tsunami warning. Roads are gone, buildings are gone, people are gone. Yesterday around 10.50pm we woke up by a huge earthquake with a magnitude of 8.1. And it is not over yet.

We had just fallen asleep in the house of coordinator Urias of the AMG center in Chorjale, close to Río Blanco, in the Quetzaltenango department. On our way to Mexico we had to stop for a day in Chorjale to make a photo report of the life of a little boy from the center and we had to make a documentary about the daily life of a teacher in the rural village. Megan and I were supposed to sleep in the school, without a matress or anything, but the coordinator offered us a bed in his house. It was freezing cold and we had just traveled for 7 hours, so we went to bed a little early. Thank God we were not at the school.

About an hour after we finally fell asleep, we woke up by a strange feeling. The whole house was shaking, the closet was moving back and forth, things were falling from the closet and the family was running through the house. An earthquake! No! One of Urias’ daughters started screaming and crying of fear and the rest of the family gathered in front of our bedroom door. Urias kept telling us to stay calm, but we could clearly see the fear in his eyes. His wife also tried to stay calm, but she really wasn’t. Should we get out of the house? Hide under the bed? We were holding on to the walls of the shaking house and it felt like the shaking would never stop. In those moments of fear it made me realize how incredibly small we are. When the earth underneath you is shaking, what are you going to do? What if the earth dissappears underneath you? What if the walls come down on you? It is a very scary feeling to be completely out of control. The only thing we could do was wait and pray. The earthquake lasted for more than 1.5 minutes and it was the strongest of the past century. After those nervewrecking, long minutes, the earth calmed down again, but I kept shaking so bad. This was one of the scariest earthquakes I have ever experienced. For at least an hour I had the feeling we were still shaking. Once you know what an earthquake feels like, you sometimes even feel it when it’s not there. 

And this is how an 8.1 earthquake feels and looks like (0:29):

Right after the shaking stopped we went back to bed, but it took a long time for us to fall asleep again. I texted my family that I was doing okay and that they should not worry about what they see on the news. We were safe, but we had no idea what the impact of the earthquake was in other places. Until we woke up.

At six in the morning we got out of bed to check out the damage. Fortunately, there was hardly anything to see in the little village and the surrounding area. There were some walls that did not survive the shaking and there were some landslides, but luckily, no houses were damaged really bad. Guatemalan houses are a lot stronger than I thought. While we were working on our pictures and the video, the news slowly got to us. The south of Mexico is in complete chaos. Dozens of people lost their lives, hospitals are without power, houses had been torn down, schools are closed, people have no electricity. And the scariest part is actually that the most deaths are in the Chiapas-region, where we are going tomorrow. God protected us and made sure we were not in the heart of the earthquake when it happened. But we were só close.

It is 7 in the evening right now and we are getting ready to travel to Mexico tomorrow morning. I have no idea what we will find there and I have no idea what is still waiting for us. There have been 14 aftershocks in the past 24 hours, there is a tsunami warning and hurricane Katia is threatening the Mexican east coast. And only God knows what is coming.

The picture in this article was made by Andres Chicol.

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Harry Swager
    1 October 2017 at 17:46

    Hi Mur, you live your dream. But before you left home, we hardly realised that living a dream sometimes equals living risk, or – better – surviving risks. We thank God for every sign of your wellbeing. Loss of your belongings was a minor detail, indeed. God bless you and your companions over there.
    Your father.

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