Finding Peace in the Chaos

All You Have To Do Is Opening Your Eyes and See

At 72 years old, I have weathered a number of natural disasters in my life. However, nothing can prepare you for the moment that an earthquake hits. Unlike pending rain, which could create flooding there is no atmospheric pressure change or smell of rain in the air. Unlike lightning, there is no bright light or rumbling of thunder in the distance as a warning. There simply is no warning past a few seconds and no way to prepare for the eventual damage.

The primary seismic waves created when the earth shifts, can travel at a speed of 12.5 kilometers (7.77 miles) a second, or 45,000 kilometers (27,962 miles) per hour.

This afternoon at 13:14:19 CST (Mexico), the earth shifted, creating a 7.1 earthquake at a depth of 51.0 km (31.7 miles) below the surface of the earth at 18.584°N 98.399°W, 5 km (3.1 miles) east-northeast of Rabosa, Puebla, Mexico approximately 98 kilometers from Cuernavaca.

It took only 7.84 seconds to reach Cuernavaca. Within 9.43 seconds the primary shockwave hit Mexico City to the north.

Surprisingly, it occurred on the 32nd anniversary of the 1985 Michoacán Earthquake that killed between 9,500 and 30,000 in Mexico City alone. That earthquake occurred off the coast of the Mexican state of Michoacán, some two hundred miles from Mexico City.

However, because of the widespread deaths, injuries and the collapse of some 400 buildings in Mexico City, which was built on the soft earth of a once-shallow lake bed, most remember it erroneously as the Mexico City Earthquake.

I was stopped on Calle Rio Bravo waiting for the traffic to clear so I could pull out onto Rio Mayo. As I pulled ahead, my car began moving like a small skiff in a rough ocean. The car moved left then right rapidly, almost as if I had four flat tires. I applied the brakes, but the car continued to move left and right again and again. It was only when I saw the people that had been walking on the sidewalk fall to the ground, that I realized there had been an earthquake. It was over in 9.94 seconds.

All traffic had stopped and we quickly exited our cars and ran to the sidewalks to assist those that had fallen to the pavement. Most were in a stupor of shock over what they had experienced. Amazingly, other than sore knees, no one appeared to be seriously hurt. Just ahead, at the intersection of Rio Mayo and Teoponzolco, other drivers had left their cars and were helping to direct traffic as the power had gone out and the traffic lights were not functioning.

I returned to my car and drove toward my neighborhood a few blocks away. I stopped by a friend’s home to check on her. The water heater that was mounted on the wall in the rear garden had dislodged and the gas was leaking. I had her son go up on the roof to turn off the gas. The PVC water pipes on the rooftop tinaco (water tank) had broken and the 1,000-liter tank quickly emptied into the rear garden.

With the gas and water turned off, I drove toward my home around the corner. The street was blockaded as there was damage ahead. I parked at the curb and walked to my home, expecting the worse. Amazingly, there was no structural damage to the house. My gas and tinaco were secure. The entire living room floor was covered in broken glass from items that had vibrated off the tables and walls.

As I exited the front garden onto the street to check on my neighbors I was met with an almost surreal view. Everyone was on the street, knocking on doors to check on the welfare of our neighbors. At the daycare on the corner and the preschool across the street, my neighbors were helping with the evacuation of the children.

Nearby, residents were busy picking up rocks and bricks where walls had crumbled into the street to allow cars carrying concerned people to their homes to inspect for damage and to care for their family members.

There was no hesitation to stop and help wherever you could. There was no concern for the plight of those who were less fortunate or of a different class. Everyone worked together for the common good of the community as a whole.

As the street was becoming crowded as cars entered the one-way street only to find it blocked with rubble and attempt to turn around, I went to the intersection to redirect cars that were attempting to find a way home from the stalled traffic on Calle Amacuzac.

In the center of town, the clock tower on the Palace de Cortez was cracked and the clock was twisted to the point of appearing to fall at any moment. The tower and walls of the Cuernavaca Cathedral, built in the early 16th-century are cracked. Many of the older downtown buildings, constructed prior to the current building codes, collapsed.

The priority, as in other parts of the city, is the rescue of people who could be trapped under the rubble of fallen buildings. Thousands of volunteer residents are working along with state police and military personnel on the rescue efforts. The rescue efforts will likely continue through the night.

Children were evacuated from schools across the city and the state, as 153 schools in the state were affected by the earthquake. Two of them, located in Jojutla and Tlaquiltenango, will have to be replaced, according to a statement by Alejandro Pacheco, a delegate of the Secretary of Public Education.

An antenna fell off an emblematic building known as the Torre Latinoamericana killing one person. The building subsequently collapsed as did many others.

A significant portion of our neighboring town of Jojutla, that I had visited just yesterday, has been destroyed. There are reports of 16 deaths of residents there. The town received quite a bit of damage, as block after block of buildings collapsed, spilling rubble into the streets. Hundreds of home in the town were damaged.

In Axochiapan, just 12 kilometers northwest of the epicenter, one person died and more than 50 people were injured when the town’s 19th-century church dome collapsed during a funeral mass.

As I write this, the death count is at 119 people. I am sure that when day breaks upon our community the true damage in terms of lives and property will be much greater. I was reminded how my good friend Roberto Gonzales Ojeda told me how he was affected by the Michoacán Earthquake of 1985. Now, I have similar images of today, people helping people and risking their own lives in doing so and they are forever embedded in my mind.

I received a message from my daughter-in-law asking about my safety. At the end of the messages that we sent back and forth, she wrote, “We are worried about you. Come back to Texas.”

My response to her and others in the USA that expressed similar statements is that, especially after today, I have no intention of ever living in the USA again! I much prefer Mexicans and their culture. The way everyone came together today was amazing. We helped each other. Directing traffic, knocking on our neighbor’s doors to check on them. Cleaning the bricks from the street. Thousands of volunteers going to the hospitals to help with evacuations. Digging through buildings that collapsed to bring out the bodies of strangers.

When I first moved to Mexico, people would ask, why. At the time, I told them that, while I could live anywhere in the world, I chose Mexico because of the people and their culture.

Mexicans are the most caring and loving people that I have found in the world. After having traveled to 62 countries and 165 cities, it has only been in Mexico that I have truly found Paz, Serenidad y Tranquilidad — Peace, Serenity, and Tranquility.

Today, I was closer to that than ever before.