Was that a very strong wind blowing the house? No, definitely not. The floor, walls and ceiling are moving, and we need to move too! The port city of #Valparaiso in #Chile was hit by a 6.9 earthquake around 6.38pm on Monday 24 April, and we’d never experienced anything like it.
She was downstairs starting to cook, her earthquake training from old Vancouver days kicked in, in an instant the gas was off & she stood in a doorway. Moments later she was outside.
He was upstairs watching 2 buildings that had been on fire near to the port for the last hour, causing traffic chaos. He thought it was a strong wind, but as the ceiling light fitting bounced up and down and the walls moved, he very nervously dashed down the stairs and outside too. The 2 Chileans working at the hostal were outside too, the guy was very nonchalant and said how common such events were in Chile, but the woman was much more nervous. That was a big one. She contacted her kids. The quake had struck some 35km out to sea at a depth of around 25km. Initially it was listed as being 6.5, then 6.7, then 7.1, but 6.9 seems to be the final size. That’s big enough. (see local reports & pics from La Estrella in spanish).
Then the sirens down in Valparaiso’s port area sounded the Tsunami alert. This was followed by an emergency text message to all Chilean’s mobiles advising them to take action now. In Valparaiso, and north & south on the coast from there, that means getting inland and up higher, 30m above sea level is recommended. The strip of land along the coast at Valparaiso’s port is less than 1km wide, soon people were streaming away and up the ‘Tsunami Evacuation Routes’ to the many cerros (or hills) where the majority of Valpo’s live. We were safe, a good 100m above sea level up a cerro overlooking the port.
This time thankfully there was no tsunami, and the quake caused no major injuries nor damage to homes. The evacuation went reasonably smoothly with only minor panic it seems, the main problem, as with all ‘disaster movie scenarios’, was the traffic jams! But the quakes kept happening, within 20 minutes there were three aftershocks of 5.1 or greater. Further quakes continued all night and all Tuesday, mainly around 4.7 or below. We did not sleep so well, but imagine living with this all the time? People get blase about it, or fatalistic, some waste time praying and others foolishly think it’s God’s revenge for human misbehaviour. Some people of course get very stressed and anxious about it. We would. (see here for info on Chilean earthquakes – you can search by the day PLUS see here the US Geological Survey website).
Chile is the wrong place to be if earthquakes, volcanos and tsunamis play on your mind! (read about Coquimbo’s 2015 tsunami). On Saturday there’d been two quakes of 5 and above, one of which we’d felt whilst on a bar terrace downtown around 10.30pm. We are it seems in the midst of a ‘seismic swarm’, caused by Chile’s location alongside where the Nazca & South American plates of the earth’s crust rub eachother up the wrong way, and this swarm has been ongoing since early Saturday. Nobody knows how long it will last? (see good info & images on the seismic swarm)
For the last 6 months on our travels in south America there have been floods, wildfires, earthquakes and smoking volcanos not too far away from us, but none have impacted on us at all – although many hundreds of people have died and thousands more been badly affected/mad homeless. So this was a shock over which we have no control, and a sharp reminder of how precarious life is for people living on the Pacific side of south America.