007.2 - Shaken, Not Stirred
- April 5/6, 2010
The title of an old Country & Western song describes
yesterday's earthquake fairly succinctly: "Mama
Get the Hammer (There's a Fly on Papa's Head)"
The 7.2 earthquake on April 4th, by far the strongest
I've experienced in my 25 years of reposing in the turnip
row of the San Felipe horticultural experiment, was
the hammer that knocked the flies off my head and in
the process stretched the definition of the town's 'No
Bad Days' motto.
I was in the middle of a conversation with a cell phone
user when the quake arrived. The connection went dead
in the middle of the sentence, "Whoa! Feels like
an earthq---- ."
My office is a renovated steel container which once
sat on a truck that parsed the American highways during
a long career of freight deliveries. It now rests on
my ejido lot, its heavy frame supported by a bed of
compacted red soil and gravel. At the onset of the quake
the entire container gave a fair impression of a paint
shaker, which is why I thought it was a good idea to
elvis the building while my hair was still free
of falling debris.
It seems there are a number of subtle biological timepieces
that police various inner and outer systems. We are
sensitive to our own circadian rhythms, to the steady
beating of our hearts, the cyclical bellows of respiration,
the daily arcs of the sun's plunge into darkness, the
seasonal precession of the zodiac, even the periodicity
of the workingman's anticipation of the next long weekend.
We also appear to have a sensor that alerts us to any
abuse delivered to the axis of some kind of inner gyroscope.
This sensor is evidently linked to the element of duration.
Damage Near Mexicali
Once outside in the open, I could feel the earthquake
galloping across the ejido, emitting a very low throat
growl as it moved. Its 'S' waves bucked against my body's
gyroscope at the points where the two met, which were
the bottoms of my sandals. My legs instinctually spread
apart to harvest as much balance as possible and my
arms raised themselves parallel to the ground for the
same reason. The sensation was like surfing a sea of
high frequency waves.
For the first few seconds there was no fear or concern.
Then my body registered a duration violation of its
gyroscope's natural state and each second that ticked
beyond that initial alert opened successive sluice gates
that dumped adrenaline, epinephrine, norepinephrine
and dopamine into the bloodstream. These molecules were
expressed straight to the brain where they evoked visual
memories of various disaster movies. Visions of the
ground opening up at my feet, steam vents rending the
road, mountains crumbling like marzipan cakes and tree
roots unclenching the earth all joined the sudden fight
or flight chemical cocktail which brought about a peculiar
paralysis of expectation. Then I heard a noise like
a loose hood latch on a truck knocking along an ejido
back road and turned to see my 32 foot fifth wheel rocking
on its jack stands. I, in turn, was bouncing up and
down in concert with it.
The waves passed after an unregistered lapse of time,
maybe 20 seconds, maybe 20 minutes. Once the gyroscope
is disrupted, eternities are swallowed by eyeblinks.
But it seemed things became calm again rather quickly,
even as my body continued its refusal to move. I held
my ground in an enhanced state of awareness, ears acute
to any basso rumblings, limbs poised like the spars
of assayer's scales, ready to be tipped by the slightest
groundswell. Then the first aftershock arrived and the
ground roiled like an enormous snapped garden hose.
The 5th wheel shuddered and rattled. Then everything
became quiet again, except for the barking of neighborhood
I went inside and used my laptop to check the USGS
site for information about the quake. The internet was
still active, which was surprising because in the past
a light sprinkle of rain or a stiff breeze was enough
to cripple it for hours.
The website had already logged the event and declared
it a magnitude 6.9 earthquake. I was loading maps and
reports when another aftershock shook the ground. After
refreshing the event map page a few times, I learned
the aftershocks were registering over 5 on the Richter
Websites with quake reports were appearing on Google
searches within 20 minutes of the event. A humorous
video clip showed a young girl in front of her webcam
preparing to accompany background music with her guitar
just as the earthquake struck. Her expression, as the
webcam did jumping jacks on her desk, was devoid of
everything but a preternatural alertness as her mind
tried to process what was happening. Then the duration
alarm signaled and her expression clouded as she stood
up and went to the window, out of sight of the video
lens. Meanwhile the room continued to jump up and down,
then became still and quiet. There was silence for a
long time, and from somewhere stage right came a surprisingly
gentle expletive. The girl unsteadily returned to her
desk, obviously unsure about what to do next. Then she
reached out and cut the video feed.
Forums and blogs began to carry opinions and impressions.
Someone declared that Mexicali lay in ruins.
Over the next few hours people telephoned with the
latest rumors. The highway suffered severe damage. Mexicali
was in a power blackout. People were being turned away
at the Ensenada turnoff. Mexicali was declared a disaster
area by Osuna Millán. The president of Mexico
is on his way to Mexicali. Roads to San Felipe, Tijuana
and San Luis Valley are severely damaged. Massive lineups
at the gas stations. Flooding in the Valley. Twenty
seven fires broke out in Mexicali. The west border crossing
was closed. Another large quake was predicted and expected.
An hour or more later, the quake had been upgraded
to magnitude 7.2. This new ranking significantly surpassed
the force of the 1989 earthquake that caused so much
highway damage in the San Francisco area.
Then, about four hours after the earthquake, the internet
went down. And forty eight hours later, it is still
down. One can only imagine a Tijuana or Mexicali backhoe
operator, in his zeal to effect repairs, tore through
a main trunk feed at the Telnor offices, or at least
their server location. Why else would there be a four
hour drum roll before the cymbals clashed?
It would seem rumorquakes and earthquakes travel at
roughly the same velocity. Which one leaves more damage
and confusion in its wake is open to debate.
Update: The internet came to life
again at about 3:30 PM April 6.