Before the earthquake

ENGLISH

Did you know there was an Earthquake while I was in the swimming pool? Maybe.

A week ago my awesome husband (AwHus) and I were in Puerto Rico visiting my family for the Christmas holidays. From that vantage point in the near past, and even with some apprehensions related to family matters, I had thought that 2020 was going to be an awesome year. And why would I think such a thing? Because I wanted to. As I have said before, I believe in the magic powers of reset that celebratory rituals such as Christmas and New Year’s Eve bestow on life. And just because vacations; you know, improved sleep, getting to spend time with the important people in your life, and eating all kinds of things that are so good for your soul though not for your body. Those, can have a disproportionately positive effect on hope. I still believe that 2020 has the potential to be awesome, to be my year, to be a year of mending and healing in general. And boy do we need mending and healing in the world! 

Recent events seem determined to contradict me: big baby in the White House throwing explosives around without measuring the consequences, fires still burning in Australia—I am far from Australia and in fact, I should not care, but the matter is that I have a soft point for trees and Kangaroos, also for people, and I wish none of them would burn, ever,—and earthquakes in Puerto Rico. Holy cow! Earthquakes!

Temblors in Puerto Rico are nothing new, the island is located in a really good place for beaches and gorgeous tropical weather, but a really bad place for hurricanes and telluric activity; it sits in the Caribbean Plate and in an area too close to where it and the North American Plate had been engaged in a game of sliding by each other for a really long time, which causes the ground to shake frequently. Only during the months of October and November of 2019, 743 and 503 earthquakes, respectively, were detected, according to the Red Sísmica de Puerto Rico, the vast majority of which were so insignificant that hardly anybody on the island noticed them except the scientists that had equipment dedicated to monitoring such things. However, last month, as if the very Earth was joining in all the partying and celebrating of our famously extended Christmas season, noticeable earthquakes started to be felt across the island. 

Let me turn the clock a few days back to the time when we arrived in Puerto Rico and, though the island was shaking as usual, nobody was noticing or paying any attention to it except, as I already mentioned, scientists. 

AwHus and I spent a couple of nights in the house of one of my siblings in San Juan. Nothing out of the ordinary happened. Then we went to spend a few days, around Christmas day, in a rental house in the town of Luquillo, with a swimming pool and gorgeous views of the mountains and the ocean. The ground kept silently shaking but we did not feel anything strange. Actually, I did feel a bit dizzy, as if my field of vision kept changing because I was moving too much, but I thought that jet lag and a couple of days spent frolicking in the swimming pool were responsible for that, and I was experiencing a bout of land sickness. We checked out of the house the day after Christmas and went for a nice drive around El Yunque, which some people also know as the Caribbean National Forest. Cloud cover and moisture made the greenery and the arborescent ferns look even greener, the waterfalls richer, the languid pools between rocks seemed more secretive in ways that were not completely disturbed by the hordes of tourists that we ran into. Some of the visitors seemed local, but the majority, judging by their looks and conversations, seemed to be coming from outside of Puerto Rico. Wherever we went, to shop, to dine, in the hotel in Bayamón where we checked in afterwards, everything was packed full, tourism seemed to be booming. It was mildly annoying for us, and yet great for the economy of the island, so I decided to split the difference and smile aimlessly at the surging crowds. 

Views of El Yunque from Luquillo.

Swimming pool in our rental in Luquillo.

Views of El Yunque from Luquillo.

Then, one evening at the hotel, I was crossing the room to go to the bathroom and I stumbled for no apparent reason. I recovered my equilibrium without any problem and wondered if I would be jetlagged for the rest of my vacation. When I came back to bed, AwHus looked distracted; he asked me if Puerto Rico still had earthquakes—I have previously told him about the island’s particular geological characteristics. He said that he thought that a small temblor had happened.

“Really? When?” I said.

“A few minutes ago when you were going to the bathroom,” he said.

“Did they say that in the news?” I asked.

“No. I felt the bed shaking and my leg shook too.” he said with a worried face. 

“Oh, that explains it,” I said, thinking about my unlikely almost accident. “Don’t worry about it, the ground shakes a little bit all the time.”

Nothing new happened afterwards and we could enjoy the rest of our holidays with ease, eating good food, enjoying the weather, spending time with the family, and visiting touristic attractions. I had promised AwHus to take him to Arecibo’s observatory—check out some of the beautiful pictures I took there—and we did. We ate plenty of beef, mofongo and fresh seafood; all seemed well with the world.

View from hotel in Bayamón

Piñones

Hordes of tourist at the Arecibo Observatory.

Radio telescope in Arecibo Puerto Rico

Radio telescope in Arecibo Puerto Rico

Radio telescope in Arecibo Puerto Rico

Two days after we arrived in Qatar, I am sleepless and trying to readjust to the time shift by browsing my social media, when I open my browser to complains and requests for prayers, pictures of cars crushed under fallen houses, and videos of rocks falling on a major road. Two big earthquakes, almost one after the other, and many aftershocks had happened. Goodness gracious!

And now what? My family is well, and I am thankful for that. It is insane the many times that I have had to say the same thing in response to inquiries from my friends during the last three years. I am grateful that my family is fine, I am confused that I have to look for this reassurance so relatively often. The most severe damages had happened in the south of the island; for everybody else, the major trouble has been the fear of feeling the aftershocks in the dark because the grid shut down during the emergency.  Water was also cut, then came back. Even though the damage is geographically limited to certain areas, there had been many people who lost their homes, and many who are afraid to return to theirs for fear of the ongoing aftershocks and are sleeping outdoors even as I write this. Sadly, two people lost their lives and others had been hurt, at least one school has partially collapsed, one church was destroyed, public housing has been severely damaged, and for a few days, a good chunk of the island was without electrical power or running water. 

And yet, the business of getting over previous disasters and rebuilding Puerto Rico’s economy and infrastructure continues; the famous Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián start in San Juan tomorrow, and cruise ships are still scheduled to dock on the island. Help is pouring to the south of the island from Puerto Ricans in the unaffected areas in the north.

I feel cheated that I missed the highest point of the crisis;  I wish I could have been there if only to freak out together with my family and friends—freaking out on social media just doesn’t give you the same warm-fuzzy panic. I also agree that the show must go on, and that the shaking will last as long as it would and that is no reason to abandon the recovery of Puerto Rico. One parting thought: small temblors keep happenning but the north of the island remains unscathed, maybe this is an opportunity for all those adrenaline junkies out there for a truly unique vacation in paradise.

Was this post interesting? Then you will want to check A Month in Puerto Rico Part I.



Note: Below you will find some links with news about the earthquakes with photos, and in some cases videos. Some of the links refer to sources in Spanish and some in English.

 

  1. https://www.discovermagazine.com/planet-earth/why-is-puerto-rico-being-struck-by-earthquakes
  2. Nat geo
  3. Red Sísmica de Puerto Rico
  4. ABC News Video:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mVurekcj9rQ
  5. NPR
  6. Las Sanse van
  7. https://www.primerahora.com/noticias/puerto-rico/nota/continuanlostembloresenelsuroestedepuertorico-1386624/#cxrecs_s
  8. Arecibo Observatory
  9. https://www.noticel.com/ahora/las-fiestas-de-a-sanse-van/1156809777