Monday, January 25, 2010

A Tale of Two Earthquakes

Like many of you, hardly a day goes by when we don't hear something about Haiti. Tales of survival, heartbreak, courage and heroism fill the airwaves on a regular basis. Graphic images of the horrors these people have endured are thrust into our faces daily, a grim reminder of the tragedy, sorrow and dispair their world has now become.

I have been fortunate enough in my neck of the woods (Central Maine) to not have endured the conditions these Haitians now face. Sure, we have snow, sleet, rain and ice. But earthquakes, hurricanes and other weather disasters usually don't hit our area with the severity of other places in the world. Although there are two events in my lifetime (the flood of 1987 and the ice storm of 1998) that were severe enough to affect my area-we as Mainers made use of our resilient nature and were able to endure the hardships using good old Yankee spirit, helping and watching out for our neighbors, sharing generators, and doing what we could to make it easier for those affected.

In order to better understand about the challenges Haiti now faces, I asked my husband to tell me a little about the February 4, 1976 7.5 Guatemalan quake that he had lived through. He was almost 6 when it happened. Although the death toll was 23,000 and falls far short of the 200,000 estimated dead in Haiti, it still haunts him to this day. Back then, he lived in a small town (pueblo) out in the country, about an hour from the city in car. The earthquake hit around 3 am, most people were sleeping. Growing up, he was extremely poor, and his family lived in an adobe type of home. The majority of these homes were destroyed, but for some reason, his remained standing. They didn't have lights, public water, or any of the things we consider a necessity when he was growing up. Thus, being cut off from the city (bridges had collapsed, there were rock slides and roads deemed unsafe) didn't affect him as much as it would have someone in the city. He says that relatives moved in together, often several families to a room. Because his community was mainly a farming community, they were able to survive on beans, tortillas and water for many weeks. People shared what they had, and made it last. And of course, people died. The dead were buried in makeshift wooden coffins and mourned. But life, as they knew it, went on.

My ex husband is also Guatemalan. He was about 8 when it happened. He lived in the city and tells a different tale. He says when the quake struck the sound of screaming filled the streets. People ran into the street, in all stages of dress (and undress) frantically looking for family members as their homes crashed down into rubble. Crying children called out to their parents, there were many injured, and many dead. He'd always get so excited telling me about it, and has repeated the story to our son more times than he wants to hear it. There was some looting, but not alot that he can remember. Those that did were shot or lynched by the mobs. Or had their arms or hands chopped off with machetes. Or were shot by the army or national police. Services took awhile to get there as the infrastructure was damaged, and international aid began arriving a few days later. Heavy equipment began moving the huge blocks that had once been homes, some with two or three stories. Under those blocks, the stench of death filled the air. Some people were never found, and children began to fill the orphanages. He doesn't remember mass graves being dug, but he does remember seeing the body bags filling the backs of trucks. To him, Haiti is reliving the memory of the quake in Guatemala all over again.

To me, it was interesting to see how two people in different parts of the country had two different observations to what had happened. The quake had affected them both in different ways, with my ex in the city enduring much more hardship than my current hubby who lived in the country. Just this past month, Guatemala was hit by a 6.0 after the Haiti quake. My current hubby's family lives on a ledge, on the outskirts of the city, huge cement poles holding up the back of their home. They have since purchased land on flat ground and are building somewhere safer. Years later, the shaking still affects them. After making sure that the children were outside, my sister in law paused in the doorway for a moment, and stayed there until the rolling subsided and it was determined safe to enter the house again.

For these survivors, the memories never go away. They linger in the back of the mind, and awaken with the first tremble of the Earth. Each aftershock brings fear, a sense of dread and foreboding. The body switches into survival mode, and everything but life's basic necessities now seems insignificant. The past is a distant memory, the future is unthinkable. For everything is all about TODAY.

The survivors have a difficult road ahead, but those that choose not to give up will endure whatever hardships they may face. The path will not be easy, but no one said it would be. Currently, the news stations are full of stories on the Haiti earthquake. In time, other news stories will come to take its place. Like those who died on 9/11 and in many other disasters around the world...gone, but certainly not forgotten.


All My Yesterdays said...

Great post to share today. I feel a compassion toward the people of Haiti and what lies ahead for them. My thoughts are on the government officials, or what there is of a government...
The US has been sending millions of dollars to Haiti for several years and the people are lucky to see any of it. That's a known fact, and I think of that now. The people that really need the help may never receive any. People like the two men in your life. They did what they could do for themselves and survived because of it.
God bless the survivors...

Veronnica Watson said...

What an interesting post. I was in 6th grade with the 1987 Loma Prieta earthquake rocked the SF Bay Area.

I can still remember it to this day. Sitting outside at a friends house holding onto my friend as we screamed. I remember looking across the street and seeing a neighbor come outside holding his arms out to the side as if to keep himself upright. I remember seeing him in a blur...that's how much the ground was moving, like a giant rock style wave.

Those poor people in Haiti are going through something horrible and need all the help they can get.

Thanks for your post.

Oh and thanks for stopping by my blog the other day. Nice to 'meet' you! ;)

Megan said...

Hello...Just came across your blog while searching for photos from the 1976 EQ you wrote about. I'm writing a paper about the events for my GEO class and I chose this disaster because I'm half Guatemalan - my mother was living there with her family at the time of the EQ. Great post. Thank you for sharing your wonderful insights with us all :)