Two afternoons ago Jer and I were sitting in the main cloister of San Lorenzo, basking in the sun and watching some young kids playing racket ball, when all of a sudden Jer turned to me and asked, somewhat strangely, ‘Hey, do you feel that?’
It took no more than a few seconds to realize what was happening. The ground was shaking beneath us as if the school had been built on a thick layer of Jell-o. We were oscillating as freely as a spring.
We both looked at each other astonishingly, and then up at the tips of the flagpoles that were waving back and forth above our heads.
On February 27th, 2010, Chile experienced an earthquake with a magnitude of 8.8 on the Richter scale. For those of you unfamiliar with earthquakes or the Richter scale, a magnitude of 8.8 is massively destructive. The epicenter was about 100 miles southwest of Santiago. According to “precise GPS measurements,” the city of Concepción, which is around 75 miles southwest of the epicenter, permanently moved 10 feet to the west following the quake; Santiago moved 10 inches west. And surprisingly (to me), Chile gained an estimated 1.2 square kilometers of area following the quake. I would otherwise make some smart remark, but I think a bit of reverence is more appropriate.
Inevitably, the many affected areas were plunged into chaos. And sadly, that continues to be the case today--many of the hardest hit areas remain devastated from the earthquake, and thousands of families are still without homes and basic necessities. Immediately following the earthquake there was a humanitarian rush to rescue and rebuild, but as soon as the media moved the focus from the aftermath, the aid all but ceased. The schools of the Manquehue Movement have made several trips to affected areas for support, and when their term ends in December more groups will go down as part of their community service requirement.
So was there another earthquake in Chile just two days ago? No. Not even close. What Jer and I felt is called a tremor. Whereas an earthquake produces another natural disaster in itself--a tsunami--tremors might make some small waves in the neighbor’s pool. They are very small aftershocks that can occur several months after the initial earthquake. In our case, it was almost 7 months to the day.
Standard protocol for tremors at San Lorenzo is to move everyone out into the open air and away from windows. We had no idea of the protocol until one of the senior administrative women approached us and asked us if we had been scared by the tremor. It seemed an odd question to me at first, but once all the young kids began asking us the same thing I started to consider the repercussions of not being a bit scared and prudent with the tremor. Instead of enjoying the feeling of floating on earth's landmass, I could have helped to guide the kids out of their classrooms.
In the end no weak structures collapsed, no windows blew out, and no one suffered a blow from a falling object. So, thankfully, I can write this with a light heart. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but keep present the thought of all the suffering caused on February 27th.