5 days after the Quake (April 21,2016)
We woke up on this Thursday to news that a small “tienda” or store had opened it’s doors. As soon as we heard of it, we knew we had to act fast. It was a small store and we figured that it would sell out of everything quickly as the news spread. We needed water, diapers, and enough rice to feed us and the “soccer kids” at the very least. Carlos ran the few blocks to the store… and by the time he arrived, they were already sold out of all of the water except for some bottles of carbonated, mineral water.
He bought it anyway, after all water was water! We really didn’t have any room to be picky. He hauled home as much water as he could carry, a pack of diapers and a 25 lb pound bag of rice!
When the soccer boys came by later that morning, we were able to give them so much rice to eat… that they actually left some in the bowl and couldn’t finish it! It was a wonderful feeling to know that they were actually “full”. We sent them away with some uncooked rice to take their families for cooking. We had sent them with only 2 small bottles of the mineral water, but we knew it wasn’t enough for their family of 30. Carlos called them back and offered to take them to the “tienda”. They seemed hesitant at first, not quite realizing that Carlos intended to pay for it. We watched them walk home, smiling as they struggled to carry more water than could really fit in their arms.
That afternoon, the quiet turned into an abrupt onslaught of a city suddenly discovered.. as if the world had woken up sometime that morning, and realized just what kind of brink we had been living on.
It seemed like the military force had multiplied 5 fold, and volunteers flooded the streets to offer help wherever it was needed.
Men in hard hats scribbling notes, nodded and scowled at the standing but damaged buildings. They were engineers, who had arrived to make more accurate assessments of which buildings could be revived and which would be demolished. Some people hung at their heels, in tears and outrage, begging them to revoke their statements.. to let them try to make amends. These people had undoubtedly just had their worst fears confirmed, their greatest denials rejected… they had lost EVERYTHING.
In other areas, the people had already scattered elsewhere to make room for the heavy machinery.. they had been busy since sun up, clearing away the rubble of places that were obviously already “gone”.
The local phone service was back too, and with it rumors of free Internet and charging outlets at one 1 specified location. One of the first messages we received was from the realtor, saying she had a place for us go if we wanted to leave…ironically, it was a location vacated by a couple who had fled immediately after the earthquake.
First order was to reach our taxi driver, to get us to the rental property for viewing… and to get us to the place where we could contact my family (in the USA) by Skype via the internet connection. We were successful in reaching the driver, but we were only able to get enough internet signal to send a quick message and post online about our well-being.
We made arrangements to view the rental apartment later that day. We were satisfied with the location and almost non-existent earthquake damage to both the home and the town. It was a tough journey, the road to a neighboring town almost 20 minutes away. We had to stop a few times to navigate through construction zones, where they were making repairs to the twisted and cracked asphalt.
The road is one that winds through rural areas of ramshackle housing, where we are aware that the poorest of the poor live. It was interesting to see, that many of their bamboo huts and wooden shacks… were barely phased by this earthquake. But, they too were out of potable water and any type of modern amenities that they might be used to (like lights and refrigeration for example). People of all ages, stood at the end of their dirt lanes or beneath the palapa roofs of their fruit stands… waving around empty water bottles and holding up signs written in broken Spanish. They needed water, possibly even more than the rest of us. A remarkable image remains in my mind, of a barefoot woman, standing with her toes curled over the edge of the pavement. She carried a tiny baby, not more than a month or two old. She held the baby securely in one arm as he/she nursed and she waved the other arm in the air, shaking an empty water bottle over her head. Behind her was a melon stand, with several hundred fruits piled one on top of the other.. and three small children running and digging in the dirt.
We saw many variations of this as we drove through the area. Every half of a mile or so, there would be another family, child, teenager, or even elderly people.. standing at the edge of the highway, begging for water. It felt like we were the first car they had seen in a week. I choked back the tears, as my mind swirled in every direction trying to figure out how these people could get the water they needed. At this point in time, it wasn’t possible for people like us to get enough volume to serve that number of needy. And even if it was, we surely would have gone broke trying to do so. But, none the less.. it was impossible to ignore the urge to help.
On the way to and from the next town, we scoured the route for any stores that might be open and that might have any water. Unfortunately, on this day… the owners of these small shops were afraid to open. We could see them inside, behind steel bars with heavy-duty padlocks. They were terrified of being robbed blind by people in desperation. Or maybe they were hoarding, trying to reserve what they had for their own families and friends. And even more possibly, a little bit of both. We were disappointed to travel the same route, returning without a single bottle of water to offer anyone.
Fortunately, about 5 miles into the country.. we caught sight of a single relief truck parked in a dusty lot alongside the road. They were giving the people sealed bags with supplies and BIG bottles of water! For the next several miles we would see people scurrying from their humble dwellings and running alongside the highway to reach the truck in time. There was one woman, balancing a full 5 gallon bottle on top of her head, securing it with just one arm and holding the fingers of a tiny toddler in the other.
As we drove back into our own humbled city, we were shocked and relieved to see a repeating pattern. On every street corner, at every park, and near the front doors of every church were the signs of a community being revived. Alongside the backhoes, loaders, and dump trucks… were relief trucks. Outsiders stood at the back of open trailers and lifted down sacks of non perishables, supplies, containers of water, and small mattresses. The streets were filled with more citizens than we knew were still around. They flocked arround the trucks like bees to a hive, the troops stood by… trying to keep order and calm. They attempted to form lines but it seemed like a futile task. No one was taking a chance, that they would be the one to walk home empty-handed. Luckily, it appeared that there were plenty of trucks to serve the needs of the people.
Not long after we arrived home, Carlos learned of a private relief truck that was servicing a nearby condominium building. We were asked if we needed anything. We only asked if they could bring us any surplus, for us to give to the families of the soccer kids. About an hour later it was our pleasure to send 5 boxes of instant noodle soups (similar to Ramen noodles) home with these young men and their wives. It would be enough to feed all 30 of them, 2 meals a day for approximately 8 days.
It was wonderful to see them leave, smiles from ear to ear… with a sense of confidence, that they could survive for another reasonable amount of time. Water, rice, and noodles were an equation for happiness.
We returned home and pulled our chairs onto the sidewalk, to sit in the same space that we had been on the night of the earthquake. Well, the same sidewalk about 5 yards down from the hotel. Just in case…
That evening, for the 2nd time in a day we would be approached by a passing engineer, whom would suggest to us that he did not feel the hotel was stable. He was free to elaborate on his concerns and kindly urged us to reconsider remaining in the house. He suggested that this hotel would definitely crumble right on top of our house, should a large.. or even small.. aftershock occur.
I tried not to panic, and thankfully Carlos is the calm and rational mind that talks me back from the edge… but even in the calm, I was sure that I did not want any of us to continue living in that house. And Carlos agreed . He made a quick phone call, to find out if we could move to the new apartment the next day, rather than in the 5 days that we had planned for. It was agreed that we could move early the next morning.
For the night, we pulled out the mattress from the living room floor and laid it on the sidewalk. It was odd, like reliving the night of the earthquake over again. We laid the kids down to rest, and the dogs at their feet. And then Carlos and I, sat in lawn chairs between them all and the street. We stayed awake talking for a while, and decided that the neighborhood was safe. … there were too many people around for robberies to be a legitimate threat. We decided to close our eyes and try to sleep.
And then it happened…AGAIN! It felt like merely two minutes had passed since we had closed our eyes! I sat straight up, expecting to be jolted awake from my dream at any second. But it wasn’t a dream, and my worst fears materialized as I realized that the ground was indeed shaking again. I screamed for Carlos and we scrambled to grab both the kids and the dogs. We ran only to the opposite end of the adjoining house before we realized that it had stopped. We stood there for a while, cradling our sleeping kids. There had been no further obvious damage and the people in the streets had huddled back into their groups and chattered excitedly. Most of these people were various sorts of volunteers or workers who had just arrived that day. They had most likely not lived what we had lived through just 6 days before. In fact, they did not seem to feel the fear at all, that I felt. They just went back to their apparent partying and chalked it up to a little extra excitement to write about in their mission notes.
For us, it was no joke. With the help of a few sober volunteers, we packed up our little makeshift camp and moved it across the street. We preferred to be nowhere near the buildings at this point. The kids barely even woke through it all. We stayed awake most of the night, once again. We talked in-depth, about so many things. The end of the world, detailed evacuation plans, how to die together if it was inevitable. If we should leave or if we should stay, where we would go. And once again, as if it couldn’t and shouldn’t ever be said enough… of our love for each other, for our children, even for our dogs.
The lessons we have learned about life and death, living and surviving… are hopefully lessons that won’t be forgotten when the shock has been relieved and life has regained its normalcy.
Sometime in the middle of the night, we were informed that the big shake we had felt earlier, was not an aftershock at all… but had indeed been identified as a brand new earthquake and this time we had only been a few miles from the epicenter of a 6.1 on the Richter scale.
The next day would take us away from the center of the earthquake zone, but still a far leap from the life we had known before.