Things are very quiet here in Salinas, Ecuador today. As you can see in the picture, the beach is nearly deserted, only a few boats and jet skis out. This is a resort town for Ecuadorians, and most of them have left to go check on their homes and families in other parts of the country. We normally are very happy to see the “touristos” clear out (see The Most Wonderful Time of the Year), but today it feels very different.
Our area was hardly affected by the earthquake at all. We have power, gas, water, internet, and the roads are fine. The weather is beautiful. Clear skies, upper 80’s with a nice breeze coming in off the ocean. As we sit in our air conditioned condo, admiring the view and deciding what to have for dinner, it is hard to believe that just a few hours away from us they are pulling dead bodies out of rubble and searching for survivors. People are sleeping in the streets, with only whatever they were wearing when the earthquake hit to their name.
We are hearing reports of towns that have not yet seen any relief workers, 72 hours after the disaster. They are searching for eggs from chickens or other fowl, and boiling them using swimming pool water since drinking water is not available.
There’s a weird dichotomy in the air now.
North of us, the aftershocks continue. Since the big 7.8 magnitude quake Saturday at 6:58pm, there have been almost two dozen smaller quakes in the area ( between 4-5.8). We’ve felt none of them here. The numbers are really misleading, because the Richter scale is a deceitful bitch. It is on a logarithmic scale, so a 8 is not “one more” than 7 – it is 10 times as much. And power comparisons are even worse.
For example, most of the aftershocks are around 4.5, while the Main Event was 7.8. So about half as strong, right? Wrong. The earthquake Saturday night was 1995 times as strong as a 4.5 – and released 89,165 times the amount of energy (try it yourself – http://earthquake.usgs.gov/learn/topics/calculator.php).
Another example. The San Francisco quake in 1989 that interrupted the World Series was a 6.9. Many of us remember pictures of the damage it caused. Well, consider that the Ecuador quake at 7.8 was 8 times as strong as that one, and released over 22 times the amount of energy. Think about that before counting the damage as due to different building codes.
So it is no wonder we did not feel the aftershocks here in Salinas. At least not the physical ones.
My wife and I have had time now to come down from the giddiness of a brush with death. As we sat 200 feet up, with the whole building shaking and swaying, waiting for a great crack to appear and swallow us, or for the building to slip to the side, or just collapse under us, taking us to our deaths – who knows how much adrenaline was pumped into our systems.
Now that we have had a little time to appreciate just how lucky we were (are), we can’t help but wonder; what if it had been different? What if we were the ones crawling through rubble, cut off from the outside world and wondering if we would survive?
It’s a sobering sensation.
I’ve been dealing with survivor guilt for for almost eight years now, in the aftermath from my first wife’s death from cancer, leaving me wondering why death took her and not me. I recognize that part of the unreality and distortion that we feel now is another version of that guilt. So many are dead or injured, and many more have lost everything. And we sit in our air conditioned condo, admiring the view and wondering what to have for dinner.
Sure, we have sent things for the relief effort and hope for the best for those suffering. We don’t have the skills or abilities to help out onsite, so what can you do but help where you can and get on with life – the life that we have so recently and forcefully been reminded is precious and can end in the blink of an eye?
Nothing, I guess. That’s the beauty and the curse of life – it goes on; with or without you, whether you are happy or sad, well or suffering. Think about that today. If you’re worried about your job, your kids, your spouse, your health – think about those people crawling out the rubble, hoping to find a swallow of clean water or a pigeon egg for their hungry child – and remember just how blessed you are.
If you would like to help the Ecuador Earthquake Relief Effort, here are some suggestions: