Living in a highly seismically active area means we play some unusual games. This one is called "Sismo" (tremor in Spanish). In the game we have to quickly get to an earthquake safe spot. The kids play this in their kindergarten regularly too. It's fun but there's also a serious side to it. Every few weeks a (gentle) tremor reminds us of this.
Stories from last major earthquake
The last major earthquake hit Arequipa in 2001 with a magnitude of 8.4. It was devastating, destroying about 17,000 homes. 2,500 people were injured and 75 people lost their lives including 26 with the Tsunami that hit the coast.
AnaLou, a teacher at our language school, was in the upper part of Arequipa when the earthquake struck. She described it as terrifying. They could see over the town and as the dust rose from the shaking it looked like the city was sinking into the earth which caused even more panic. Mobile phones wouldn't work - the networks were saturated. Public transport came to a stand-still. Everyone just wanted to get home to get together with their families and make sure everyone was okay.
Julio, our grammar teacher, was outside when it happened. He said the ground had waves running through it, like someone lifted a carpet and shook it. Pipes had broken spraying water into the air. Cars were bouncing in the streets. When he looked towards the volcano that towers over the city, it had disappeared in a cloud of dust from what he later realized must have been caused by avalanches. Julio described the most terrifying thing about an earthquake was the incredible noise. In his home cupboards had opened and cutlery smashed on the floor, his fridge had fallen over but the important thing was that no one was hurt.
A week after the earthquake a team of doctors arrived from Germany and were staying close to Julio's home. Some of these doctors, after seeing the effects of the earthquake, spoke about wishing they had experienced it first hand. Julio couldn't understand why anyone would want to experience an earthquake. But anyway, these doctors got what they wished for! After a major earthquake, there are often serious after-shocks. At around 3 am one morning an earthquake with an magnitude of over 7 struck. As the doctors fled the house, many were still in their underwear, standing outside in the cold. A couple of them were so shaken by the experience they wanted to fly home immediately. They'd changed their minds evidently.
How we stay prepared?
We have regular drills at home and in our language school. In an earthquake the power is automatically cut so we keep torches and candles handy. We also need some emergency water, a few cans of food and a radio with batteries.
When an earthquake strikes, it's important to react quickly and find a safe spot close to where you are. Under a table or in a safe zone away from glass windows or objects that can fall. People's natural reaction is often to run out of the building. This is generally dangerous and many injuries have occurred when people have tried to run down stairs. Most of the buildings in Arequipa are built to withstand earthquakes so it is best to find a safe spot within a couple of seconds of where you are standing. Once the quake is over it is time to go outside being careful of broken power lines.
Safe zones that are marked in all public buildings
Should we be worried?
We trust that God has things under control. Wherever we live he is in control of when we live and when we die. We will take all the precautions necessary and keep in perspective that while the risk of an earthquake is high, the risk to our lives is extremely low. I feel that it's easier here in Arequipa to understand that we are every day in the hands of our Creator.