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17,000 earthquakes

6 Mar

Over the last few days, Iceland has been hit by 17,000 earthquakes. It’s a truly astounding number. I can’t imagine how stresses Icelanders feel. I have experienced a couple of earthquakes and that was enough for me.

My first earthquake happened on Sunday, October 18, 1992, while I was living in MedellĂ­n, Colombia. I remember the date because it was my dad’s 61st birthday. A friend in I were sitting in the backyard of the finca we shared, planning our Winter Break trip to Peru and Bolivia. Suddenly, the earth started undulating. It took a minute for my brain to register what was happening. I learned later that the quake had a magnitude of 7.2 and that 10 people died near the epicenter, which was about 300 miles northwest of us. Someone from the Canadian embassy called me to see if I was okay and asked me to let them know if any Canadians I knew needed help. My roommate, a US citizen, was impressed by that call.

As disturbing as the earthquake was, it was the aftershocks that really freaked me out. Our finca was designed in an old style. It had wooden shutters on the barred windows, instead of glass, and they were secured at night with old fashioned metal clasp. Sitting in my room, I knew an aftershock was coming because the hasp would start to tick, tick tick against the staple. It was an eerie sound that presaged danger.

The next day at school, where I taught 4th grade, I was sitting on the floor with one of my three reading groups when specialist teacher threw open the door and cried out, “What are you doing. Take cover!” Apparently an earthquake or aftershock had occurred, but we hadn’t felt it.

I remember another quake that occurred in 1996 or 1997, while I was teaching here in Oregon. I was sitting at my desk in my wheeled teacher chair, when the chair began to move of its own volition. Fortunately, lots of earthquake drills had my students and I prepared. I ducked under my desk and they found shelter under their tables. I particularly remember one girl who had arrived from Ecuador that year, praying as she hunkered down. We evacuated and all was well.

When we are in school, we practice fire drills once a month. I have never been in a school that caught fire, although I know it has happened. We only do fire drills once or twice a year. My experience makes me think we should do them more often.

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