TBT - (1976) "The Trouble With Earthquakes"

When I was living in Central America in the '70s there was two devastating earthquakes - one killed 21,000 people in Guatemala and the other killed 6,000 in Nicaragua. The one in Guatemala was caused by a shift of the Caribbean Fault - which runs close to the Bay Islands, off the coast of Honduras.. At the time of the quake I was living on the Bay Island of Utila,

Earthquakes were not a new thing for me, having experienced them in Washington State, California, and Mexico City. But of all the things nature can throw at you - it might be the most frightening. Unlike hurricanes - they are a sudden and unexpected danger that you have little time or ability to deal with.

On that particular night of the Guatemala Quake, I was dead tired from a full day of snorkeling and in a deep sleep. A lady friend from Florida, who had never experienced an earthquake before, awoke immediately when the house started shaking and swaying. We were staying in a typical island house on the shoreline that is supported by 8' concrete pillars.

When the quake hit she was naturally alarmed at the violent swaying movement of the house and woke me up to ask what was happening. As I listened to my nice collection of old pirate bottles drop off the high shelf and crash to the floor in the living room - along with the dishes and other lose stuff, I calmly told her it was an earthquake.

I could see and feel her panic - but I was very tired and only slightly concerned, thinking maybe the house would fall off the stilts holding it up (checking the town for damage the next day we found some places off their stilts and several water cisterns damaged or with the water sloshed out). When the quake had finally quit shaking I wanted to go back to sleep. But the girl was wide awake and full of questions. Explaining to her that the real danger for us might be a tidal wave (tsunami) - she wanted to leave the house immediately! I told her the island is way too flat to be able to get anywhere high enough in time to escape the wall of water - and then without another thought about it, I rolled over to go back to sleep.

When I awoke in the morning I found her sitting up in the bed in exactly the same position as the night before when I went back to sleep. She was just silently staring with a blank expression at the bedroom wall, waiting for the water.

Never underestimate how paralyzing fear can be - so stay cool - when you can!