Friday, April 20, 2012

Seismic & Tsunami Update

As a longtime Californian, I’ve lived through many earthquakes, including the 1989 event that disrupted baseball’s World Series, the so-called “Bay Bridge Series” in which my hometown Oakland Athletics obliterated the San Francisco Giants in four one-sided games. In retrospect, that name was something of a misnomer, as the quake knocked down part of the cantilever bridge between Oakland and San Francisco, forcing Athletics’ fans to find alternative routes from the East Bay.

Never, though, had I experience a quake in a tall building as I did last Tuesday’s, on the ninth floor of the Hotel del Valle outside Santiago. Though there was no damage, the movement of the quake and especially its duration - at least two minutes - unnerved me briefly.
I was not nearly so unnerved as Owen Betts, a young Falkland Islander who had never experienced a quake before. Owen, who is doing me the favor of carrying a copy of the new third edition of my Moon Patagonia guidebook to the Falkland Islands Tourist Board this weekend, sent me a text message around 2:30 a.m. from the beach town of Guanaqueros, near La Serena (pictured above), where he was enjoying a beach holiday.

Immediately after the quake, he was having a hard time getting back to sleep and, after about an hour and half, he sent me a text message that I didn’t retrieve until the next morning, when I phoned him back. He figured as long as he could hear the surf crashing, he was OK, but that a prolonged silence would suggest the long wavelength of a tsunami had emptied the bay and was about to strike. On La Serena’s long, sandy beaches, there are no obstacles to stop a tsunami from coming ashore, where it would shatter beachside businesses into toothpicks.

As it happened, there was no tsunami, and Owen (whom I have never met in person, though I know his father George pretty well from the time I lived in the Falklands in 1986-7) was able to resume his vacation. Incidentally, according to the Santiago daily La Tercera, the US Geological Survey downgraded the quake’s magnitude from 6.7 to 6.5; meanwhile, the Universidad de Chile’s Servicio Sismológico upgraded their estimate from 6.3 to 6.5, so everyone would seem to be in agreement. Those changes, though, are not reflected on the respective websites.
Speaking of tsunamis, I’m presently in one of the most vulnerable tsunami sites in the world, the village of Hanga Roa (pictured above) on Chile’s remote Polynesian possession of Rapa Nui (Easter Island). I’ve spent two nights at the utterly transformed Hanga Roa Ecovillage & Spa, but will spend the next two at the Puku Vai Hotel before returning to the Santiago and, next week, to California. I will have more to say about my sixth lifetime visit to Easter Island in the near future.

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