I`ve finally caught up with this earthquake entry. All previous entries are under it. I promise I won`t fall so far behind again!
At 6.43 on August 15th, 7 hours before Stephen and Jennifer were due to leave for the airport, I heard my new least favourite sentence. Pamela, the children’s nurse said “Vamos afueda tranquila”, and everyone was freaking out, but I wasn’t too sure what was going on.
I was on the first floor of Casa Hogar, reading the card the children had made me for my imminent departure and it took me a few seconds to realise why she was telling us to go outside. I knew I was moving from side to side but presumed it was from some child tugging at me. When I heard someone shout “tremblor” I knew it was not just me and that it was time for us to run.
Seems like everyone’s panic buttons went off simultaneously, everyone except Annel’s who was jumping in Jenny’s arms saying “What fun, what fun!”. It was like a school fire drill, us all trying to get down the stairs as quickly as possible whilst making it look like we weren’t running. Someone said they heard a smash from our floor. I hoped my laptop hadn’t a fatal accident. I breathed a sign of relief when we made it downstairs, thinking we were safe but my Peruvian buddies knew better. In case of earthquake one should go to open ground where nothing can fall on you, I know that now. We all followed Pedro, Elsa’s husband out and just as he went through our massive industrial gate it swung shut behind him. I freaked thinking we would be trapped in the garden with the mini zoo and screaming children while the house fell down around us. At this stage things were getting fairly noisy what with the moving buildings, the crying and the dogs going nuts.
We made it out to the green in front of the house. Our neighbours had already assembled. I felt safer being moved around on the grass than the footpath. The earth was moving in waves, it was like someone had added water to the earth and made it jelly-like. I missed the apparently amazing sight of the school bus being tossed back and forth. All the lights in the surrounding areas went out. I looked around for a child, felt I should be looking after someone. I can’t even remember who I ended up clutching to, think it was Cielo. The wind picked up and the sky filled with flashes from falling power lines. The shaking just kept getting stronger and stronger.
Things really took a nosedive when the women started praying. Up until then I had convinced myself that this was routine, these people always have these. But to see people pray so hard together that they looked possessed brought it home that this was a bit bigger than normal. It sounded like chanting and I just prayed that they’d stop praying. The stronger the shaking got the harder they prayed.
The praying seemed to work because while they were at it the quake stopped. It was like someone just flicked a switch and the grass was solid again. I’ll admit I felt a little comforted by Pamela’s explanation that God was just doing some strenuous washing.
Through the mist we saw the light of a VW Beetle. My first thought was that Fr. Tony, the founder of the projects here, had jumped in his car when it started and drove like mad to save us. Turns out he was just up the road in his car, on his way to visit us when his car starting moving from side to side. He said it had been the biggest he’d felt in his 12 years here.
After a bit of hanging around waiting for whatever comes after an earthquake. Pamela decided to go back into the house to get candles. We all gave her some words of encouragement. I must have looked calmer than I felt because she turned and asked if I’d like to join her. There was no way I was looking like a wimp in front of the children so I ventured back into the building with her. There was no obvious damage but I was convinced if I tipped the wall it would fall down around me. We made it up to the first floor and found candles but I suggested we go high tech and look for torches. Never did I think I would have use for two torches but I was damn glad I’d packed both of them. We fumbled around my room until we found them and made our way back outside to guide in the crowd.
It’s very possible that the absolute worst thing one can do after an earthquake is sit around in a circle waiting for an aftershock. And that’s exactly what we did. The eight children, four gringos and two minders sat around in the children’s living room just waiting. Jenny went up to our floor for something but ran down a few minutes later screaming “It’s going again”. First aftershock arrived just half an hour after the main shake at 7.15. So we upped and legged it. Got to the front door when Fanny, the social worker, told us it was fine, there was no need and we shouldn’t freak out the children by going outside again.
So we went back up to the living room and huddled under blankets on the couch. Pamela had the great idea of reading us a story, the Pied Piper. For a while everything was good, we all relaxed and heard about how the children got taken away by the scary man. She even quizzed them at the end to make sure they had been listening. At 8pm we all felt happy and relaxed enough to go to bed. We didn’t realise the devastation that had just occured a few hours south. The children were hesitant to go alone but we convinced them God was finished washing. We headed back upstairs and were even laughing about the whole thing a bit. Had a few ‘did you see that’ moments. I was telling Jenny how lucky myself and Aisling were that at the last minute we decided not to go shopping. If I’d been in Huandoy when it happened I know I’d have have been a blubbering wreck. Jenny was mocking me for being so concered about my mom bringing me Lucozade just a few minutes before it all began.
Her teasing was interrupted by a loud ‘Chao’ which I think came from me. The ground started moving again, and although I knew pretty much nothing about earthquakes I knew being on the second floor was a bad thing. The other three ran down after me and we arrived back on the children’s floor and I could tell Pamela wasn’t too pleased that we’d frightened the children with our dramatic entrance and panting. The shaking had stopped by the time we made it down the few steps. Kevin had his own little earthquake going on. Jenny had pointed out to me that he was shaking like crazy. I had to see this for myself so I went over and put a hand on his shoulder and he was indeed a trembling wreck. We knew there was no way anyone was going to bed after this. Pamela came up with a plan to all sleep in the same room. Some people were sent off to clear out the office downstairs while others were sent to prepare the children. I was sent with Kevin and Michael to the boys side of the house. We only had the light of my cell phone to find our way to Michael’s room where he grabbed blankets, a pillow and shoes. Next we headed to Kevins room to do the same and made our way downstairs to the others. The office was a pretty small room but the eight children seemed comfortable in there. Pamela stood watch at the door while myself and Jenny snuggled in with the kids.
At 8.15pm, only and hour and a half after the quake Jenny got a text message from a friend saying she’d heard about it on the news and about the tsunami warning. The tsunami didn’t even register with us, but were suddenly worried that our familys had heard about this and may possibly be wondering where we were. I had managed to get a text message through to home straight after the quake but by that stage all the phones were down. Frustratingly enough we could recieve calls on the land line but not make them, and none of us had given our parents that number. We could also get text messages but not send them, so had to just wait and hope the people texting weren’t too cut up about it.
We went back to the kids in the office but both myself and Jenny couldn’t handle the dust in there. My asthma very rarely bothers me but so much dust had been created by the quake that it I really cooudln’t breathe. I had to retreat to the tiles just outside the children’s room.
I went back to the second floor to get blankets and realized once I got in my room that I would hate to have to stay in it alone. So while the others went and packed I pretended to be valiant and trekked back down under the pretence of looking out for the children. I told Pamela I’d be there to get people out if it started again and curled up on the tiles, trying desperately to get my blanket to cover me and go under me. I must have been a lot of help to her because a half hour later she shook me awake saying I could go back upstairs. I think my breathing reached that horrible loud stage and I was probably scaring the children.
Back up on the top of the building I started writing this blog. I was doing fine until around 11pm when I heard a door close in the distance, then my window started shaking. I think I was up and out of the room even before the ground had a chance to move. I hightailed it into Jenny and Aisling’s room and didn’t even have to say anything. Aisling saw how freaked out I was and pulled back the covers. I snuggled in next to her but neither of us were in any state to sleep. And so started hours of waiting for the next rumble and trying to decide when to run, which we never had to do again that night. The hardest thing for the whole evening was trying to guess when we needed to go outside and when it was best to act cool for the children. If we went outside unnecessarily we would get them all wound up again but if we waited too long….. well, we’d have a lot of angry parents.
At 3am we all got up to bring Stephen and Jenny to the airport. Elsa had been standing our kitchen calling ‘chicos’ for 45 minutes while we all slept through our alarms. We rushed out and drove through the pitch black street. I didn’t see much damage but my eyes weren’t quite as open as I’d liked. The airport seemed to be back up and running so after 37 days of fun and racist comments (only against Northern Irelanders I swear) we said our goodbyes and myself and Aisling headed back to see what had become of our dear Tres de Mayo.