Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Shakin' All Over: 6.7 on the Ninth Floor

Some years ago, in northern Chile’s Pampa del Tamarugal, I awoke with a start when my truck – in whose camper shell I was sleeping – started shaking uncontrollably. As the vehicle bounced back and forth on its springs, I had the distinct feeling that someone was rocking it intentionally but, since I was the campground’s only inhabitant, I couldn’t imagine how that could be. Finally, shaking off my sleep, I realized it was a rolling earthquake.
I had the same sensation at 12:50 a.m. this morning when, on the ninth floor of the new Hotel del Valle north of Santiago, the building (pictured above) started shaking and didn’t let up for nearly three minutes. According to the USGS, the cause was a magnitude 6.7 offshore quake about 42 km (26 miles) NNE of Valparaíso, about 80 km (50 miles) east of here. My heart was pumping fast and, perhaps because I was so agitated, I didn’t even notice the 5.1 aftershock only 13 minutes later, but finally got back to sleep.

Santiago’s El Mercurio Online has more details, reporting that Chile’s own seismographic service ranked the quake as a 6.3. It clearly disturbed Chileans for whom the massive quake of February 2010 is too recent a memory, and many went into the streets out of worry that buildings might collapse. It was felt as far north as Copiapó, about 800 km from Santiago, and as far south as Concepción – one of the cities most affected in 2010 – about 500 km away. In coastal zones, some people fled to nearby hills to avoid a potential tsunami, though the government discounted any such likelihood.

At Tiltil, fairly close to here, the quake measured an intensity of VII (“very strong”) on the Mercalli scale. That would suggest some or all of the following characteristics: “Difficult to stand; furniture broken; damage negligible in building of good design and construction; slight to moderate in well-built ordinary structures; considerable damage in poorly built or badly designed structures; some chimneys broken. Noticed by people driving motor cars.”

According to Mercurio’s report, some cornices fell off buildings in Valparaíso, which is about what one would expect with this intensity. From The Yellow House B&B, where I was when a smaller tremor struck about a month ago, Martín Turner has informed me that “It was a long quake, but no damage and guests all in good spirits.”

Here, having opened only nine months ago, the Hotel del Valle passed its first test with flying colors: a bottle of Cabernet placed precariously in my room appears not to have even moved.

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