The imposing volcanoes of Guatemala would sometimes have you believe you are a mere spec in a world run by sleeping giants. You see on Tuesday, well technically, on Wednesday morning, the child giants woke up to play and they made the earth tremble. And that’s not hyperbole – really and truly, the ground shook.
It was 1:30 AM, and we were sound asleep. In fact, I was probably a good 3.5 hours into my night’s sleep when I awoke to a deafening CRACK! The bed, the night table, and then the entire room began to shake. It was a rapid fire up and down frenzied movement, as if some child giant had put us in his toy snow globe to see how fast he could make a blizzard. Some instinct must have kicked in, because despite having been deep into my sleep cycle, I grabbed Rafa’s shoulder, shook him (maybe with all other the shaking that was overkill in the moment) and leaped to the door frame of our bedroom – instantly awake. I knew it felt strong, but my first reaction was to calmly try to wait it out in the doorway.
Time of course loses all meaning in those moments. Maybe 30 seconds had passed, maybe 10… As Rafa finally pulled himself out of bed, there was almost a brief pause. And then the movement changed. It went from a furious up and down, rapid fire shaking to an even more frenetic side to side lurching. It got stronger. One wide-eyed glance at each other and we both shouted, “Vamonos pa’ fuera!!!” (Let’s go outside!). There was no discussing this point. Instinct told us that we needed to get outside, and quickly.
We both took off running towards the door. As we lurched side to side and I focused on not tripping down the steps inside the house, I noticed first a painting swinging on the wall and a few second later a vase on the dining room table wobbling. Shaking, lurching, running… Suddenly everything went pitch black. The power went out. “Focus and get out,” I thought.
As I neared our front door, which leads to our outdoor lawn and garden, my muscle memory kicked in and we made it outside. It was drizzling and cold but I didn’t notice. Safety in the openness of the outdoors. The rumbling quieted and the earth calmed. I took a deep breath. My senses began to kick back in. I felt the cool, wet grass on my bare feet, the drizzle on my head. Relief washed over me. Our house was still standing. In fact, all the houses around us were still standing. We were safe.
And then, as my senses continued to kick in, I realized I had left my cell phone inside by the bed. Surely I should have thought to grab it to make emergency calls, but in the moment, it hadn’t even occurred to me. Then I realized that had no jacket, no shoes, and to top it off… no pants on. I was standing outside on our lawn in a t shirt and underwear with no pants… But on the upside, we were safe.
In the dark, we grabbed one another’s hands and slowly made our way back inside in the dark. First we found our flashlight, then our cell phones, and began checking in with colleagues. I also thought it opportune to put on some pants. We took a brief tour around our house in the dark and fortunately did not spot any major damage. We circled back around to the bedroom and climbed into bed. Our eyes stared up at the dark ceiling. As it turns out, when the child giants decide to shake their snow globes, they make 6.9 earthquakes. No small thing.
Despite trying to sleep, the night was fitful, with multiple “CRACKING” noises – smaller aftershocks as the earth settled (including a 5.5). We stayed up nearly all night, dozing but waking with every creak and crack of the house, every aftershock, and every message of another colleague checking in. Finally, around 5 AM, I fell asleep, only to get up for work around 6:30. The day awoke cold, gray and damp.
Damage around the city the next day was evident but, luckily, not devastating. Some walls and roofs had collapsed, landslides covered some of the local roads and highways, but very few people were killed. The government is still assessing the damage. A newspaper report I read yesterday said 65 public schools in our department (think county) had suffered damages, with more than 50% of those being severe or critical. While people here in the land of volcanos are much more used to tremors, this one was the talk of the town all week. Some people even said it’s the strongest one they’ve felt since the devastating and deadly quake of ’76.
From my perspective, I hope that the child giants have been satiated for a while and that the earth has settled back in for another number of years… We Wisconsin-folk prefer that the ground stay stably beneath our feet. On the upside, I think while I live in volcano and earthquake territory, I may have learned a valuable lesson about sleeping with pants and keeping shoes nearby!