Sunday, September 24, 2017

8.1, 7.1, 6.1, 5.7 Four earthquakes in two weeks

Grace Costa
UPAEP, Mexico

It feels like you're at a red light in a 5-speed car that rolls back and revs forward before taking off at green. It feels like the subway when you have nothing to hold on to so you bend your knees and hope for the best. My feet were planted on what I thought was solid ground but the swaying chandeliers hanging from the ceiling made me feel like I was in a doll house being manhandled. I was at the bar ordering a drink in a club in Cholula, México when an 8.1 magnitude earthquake hit México, the strongest since 1985.

I was fortunate enough that there was hardly any damage done to the city of Puebla, but some populations in Oaxaca and Chiapas were devastated by the seismic disruption. The total death toll is around 100 and hundreds more were displaced from their homes. However, in the days following I witnessed my university come together to ship truckloads of food, water, and supplies to those in need. The sense of community responsibility here was very comforting as I watched Mother Nature wreak havoc with her earthquakes and hurricanes.

The damage was not a devastating as one might expect given the magnitude and my host sister took the time to explain to me why. My host family used to live in Chile, sitting on a hotspot for seismic activity. For the most part, there are two types of earthquakes: circular movement and vertical movement. The earthquake on 9/08 was the circular kind.

A week later, I experienced type two. I was in Spanish class when the room started shaking like a train was passing on the other side of the building. The trembling worsened, lights flickered, and everyone fled for the safety of the street. A few of my friends were in tears as we looked around, dazed, at the streets full of people and buildings emptied of their occupants. We were fortunate enough to be unaffected by the earthquakes, but the death toll is still rising. Already over 300 people have died since the 9/19 earthquake. My university and many others in Puebla have cancelled class at least until 9/25 so that students could participate in the overwhelming response to help those in need. My university transformed into a giant collection center for donations and transporting them.

I witnessed collection centers for donations and volunteering pop up across the city and take in more donations than they could handle; a good problem to have. My friends and I went on a shopping spree in Walmart looking for things to donate. Once we brought everything to the university, we helped sort and distribute goods that were intended for small villages, hospitals, and anyone whose livelihood was affected by the earthquakes. The response was heartwarming and heartbreaking all at once. In a city like Puebla, students and civilians willing to help are abundant. But in small villages that lost access to transportation due to landslides or who lack the assistance of the military because the Mexican government is focusing their energy on the City of Mexico, help is scarce.

My host sister was able to join her friends on a trip to a small village where they gave water, food, and other necessities. A university in Puebla also sent groups of students to help, among them were exchange students. My host sister recounted the shock she felt when the exchange students took selfies among the rubble and took advantage of the free food offered for volunteers as soon as they arrived. I can't imagine being a member of that town and seeing volunteers acting like tourists while I'm wondering where I'll be able to sleep that night or grieving the loss of a loved one.

This image includes three of the four earthquakes and their epicenters, not including one on 9/24 of a 5.7 magnitude.

I know I've done my part to help, but my heart still breaks when I'm at home or enjoying myself knowing that the country is still suffering from the emotional and spiritual aftershocks of this tragedy. Keep Mexico in your thoughts as we hope that the Earth will go back to sleep.