05 September 2012

The Big One

5 September 2012 ... 8:42 am local time ... Atenas, Costa Rica, Central America:

Epicenter, left; us, right; 70 miles apart

Newtonian and The Squeeze were having a leisurely second cup of joe on the breeze-brushed terraza of our bucolic abode when ... ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE ... .

Pat was actually standing next to her chair. I was sitting down checking the early email and Facebook. The first banging shake of the earthquake got our attention but wasn't strong enough to elicit fear. We're experts (don't try this at home). We've lived in California and Costa Rica before. Ain't afraid o' no quakes!

Then it ramped up ... and up ... and up. Uh, "This is bigger than a 7!" I shouted, grabbing my sloshing mug of coffee off the table. Pat plunked down into her chair and we both stared in amazement as the strong, straight steel beams supporting the terraza roof took on a wave form and bent back and forth where they connected to the main horizontal roof beam.

Pat's coffee mug was doing the St. Vitus Dance across the table top with coffee sailing off into space -- it was all I could do to use my arm as a shock absorber to keep most of the coffee inside my mug and off my shirt. Several rapid fire crashes told us glass inside our house was falling to a fateful meeting with our tile floors and Mother Nature was releasing a mean growl into Her aethers.

"Day-um! How long is this going to go on?!?" I thought, "So this is what The Big One is like. I wonder if all of that concrete beside me is going to be held together by all of that steel we embedded in it?"

But then just as suddenly as it began, the shaking lightened and just quit. All of this was maybe 20 to 30 seconds.

"HEY! You stupid dogs! Don't you think you're supposed to act weird for awhile before one of those to warn us? Don't you think you're supposed to bark and run around like crazy and run into things?" Randy (our Jack Russell Terrorist) lifted his head off his paws and languidly looked my way. I swear, he telepathically said, "Hey yourself ... I'm basking in the sun here."

After a couple of deep breaths we got up and went inside to survey the damage. Unfortunately, we kept all of Pat's fancy cut glass, service sets and our much loved Riedel Swan wine decanter on display on a shelving unit in the dining room -- which was not bolted to the wall. Big mistake. The hutch had disgorged its contents and they were now just a big pile of shards on the floor.

But, here's a bit of trivia to enrich your understanding of physics: When enough glass falls to the floor and breaks, and more glass falls on top of those shards and breaks, etc., etc., eventually the pile of shards gets deep enough and "soft" enough so that the last piece to fall gets cushioned by the pile and it doesn't break! Yep, one small Venician cup was still intact. You're welcome.

We quickly got the dogs blocked out of the house and went back outside for the major structural damage inspection. But first, since we still had power and an Internet connection ... on to the news. First reports coming in called the quake a 7.9 (Wowzer!). But within a half hour that was corrected to 7.6 with an epicenter about 70 miles due west of us. Seventy miles! Right about then, we were wondering if anybody could survive what it must have been like directly on top of the epicenter.

Yes -- they can.

In a testament to Costa Rican preparedness and building regulations, somehow an awful lot of buildings and an awful lot of people came through this thing virtually unscathed. Hard for us to believe. Really hard. Unfortunately, there are reports of fatalities coming in and as with any stupendously large natural disaster there will undoubtedly be more. We're just really thankful for our good luck being as far away as we were and for having all steel-reinforced concrete structures here.

As far as real structural damages to our property, I cannot find any. We have a 2,500 liter drinking water tank sitting on a steel platform, 2 meters off the ground, hidden out behind our storage building. It's full of water. That means that sucker weighs around 6,000 pounds, counting the tank and piping. Mr. Earthquake took that tank and danced it more than an inch across the platform, smashing it into the roofline of the storage building. I'm glad I wasn't back there to see that or I'd have been changing my undershorts.

All told, we're fine, the house is fine, the dogs are fine (we're sure you were worried about them) and we can now say, "Oh, yeah, we went through The Big One of 2012. Let me tell you about it." .

1 comment:

  1. That is amazing. I am nearby in Atenas but was on the bus to Palmares and totally unaware until after getting off the bus that anything had happened. Glad everyone is well.