Have you ever been in a situation where you seriously thought you were going to die?
That moment of terror when you think… this is it, my life ends here.
I have. I experienced this unforgettable sensation exactly 10 years ago.
Today is the 10-year anniversary of the 8.8 Earthquake that struck Chile at 3.34am on February 27th, 2010 …. that’s 10 years ago today. Yes, you heard that correctly… 8.8 on the Richter scale. At the time it was the 5th strongest earthquake in recorded history!
Today, I am going to talk about my experience of that 8.8 earthquake.
This is an English listening activity.
My earthquake experience
It was 3.34 in the morning. At that early hour of Saturday morning, most people are either sleeping or partying… it all depends on your age and energy.
I was in our apartment on the 22nd floor. I had gone to bed at around 2 o’clock in the morning but for some reason I had woken up a minute or so before the quake had started. I know because I always look at the clock when I wake up during the night. So there I was nice and comfortable in my bed, about to fall asleep again and then suddenly the bed started moving a little. That bed used to move a lot so I just thought it was my wife rolling over. I looked over to her… and she was fast asleep. She wasn’t moving.
My first thought was… OK, it’s just another small tremor. We used to get a lot of small tremors and quakes in Chile. But this one kept going and then got a bit stronger. It was enough to wake my wife up and she asked me “Is the room shaking?” which is our way of asking: Are we experiencing a mild earthquake? The rattling noise of the perfumes hitting each other in the bathroom and the hanging wine glasses clanging against each other in the dining room confirmed what was happening. I thought, OK, this is just a strong tremor, no reason to get out of bed. As I said before, you get a lot of earthquakes in Chile so you tend to ignore any quake under a 6.0. The problem is, things began to shake a lot more. Ok, this is getting a bit more interesting, it’s quite strong now.
When an earthquake starts to get stronger, we have learnt that you have to open the front door because they sometimes jam or become stuck when the building starts to sway. So, I went to open the front door while my wife went to see how the kids were. They were still fast asleep. However, on the way to the front door, the shaking increased considerably. It now felt like a 6.5 quake.
When you live in Chile you learn how strong earthquakes are by the shaking, it is like a game where everyone tries to guess how strong a quake is before the official numbers come out. (Yeah, this feels like a small 5… oh this is a good one, it’s probably around 6.8)
So, as I was saying, I got to the front door, I unlocked it and left it open a little. But when I turned around to go back to the bedroom, the full force of the earthquake started to hit. I had never felt an earthquake that was so strong. I couldn’t move forward and I had to hold onto the wall to stay up on my feet. Just when I thought it was already too strong… it increased in strength and the shaking became more violent. While I was trying to hold myself up against the wall, I looked out our large ceiling to floor windows in our living room. Being on the 22nd floor, we had a view of most of the city but tonight that nice view was terrifying. I could see just how much our building was swaying from side to side. In front of me I could see some buildings moving in and out of view. And then there were explosions of light flashing across the night sky and I could see the power going out in different parts of the city. The earthquake gave a final strong push of intensity and then our lights went out too. In the darkness, with the strong shaking that made it very difficult for me to stand, I thought… “This is it! We’re not coming out of this alive.” This is the one time in my life when I honestly thought I was going to die.
I had never been so scared in my entire life. The intense shaking, the loud creaking of the building as it swayed from side to side. The way the building moved I thought it was going to fall over or collapse. It was frightening, scary… but those words don’t fully describe the terror you feel when you are certain you are going to die.
Immediately after the earthquake
The violent shaking gradually slowed down and then eventually stopped. I could finally walk to our children’s room to see if they were OK. My wife had been standing over them during the strongest part of the earthquake, supporting herself against the wall, making sure nothing fell on them. The funny thing is, despite it being the 5th strongest earthquake in the world at the time, our kids hadn’t woken up. They were still asleep!
We decided not to wake them up just yet. We had to get dressed and get some basic things together in order to leave the building as soon as possible. After earthquakes there are normally aftershocks. Aftershocks are smaller earthquakes that happen as the Earth and its plates try to adjust to its new position. After such an intense earthquake, we expected the “smaller” aftershocks to still be very strong, probably around the 6 to 7.0 mark on the Richter scale, and we didn’t want to be in the building for those. There was still a chance that the building could collapse.
Remember, we had no power and we didn’t have a flashlight, so I turned on my laptop and used the light from the screen to help us see a little better. Just so you know candles are NOT a good idea after such a strong earthquake as there could be a broken gas pipe somewhere near you and the flame could cause an explosion.
Once we were ready, we woke the kids up, quickly got them dressed and started to walk down the emergency stairs… all 22 floors of them. We each carried one of our boys as they were still half asleep and wondering what was happening. When we entered the stairway there was water running down the walls and down the stairs. We could see cracks going along the ceiling and some of the walls around the stairs. There was also dust everywhere, except where the water was flowing from the broken pipes. I still remember the smell of the dust hanging in the air, it was very unpleasant.
Eventually we arrived to the first floor or ground floor where the building reception is. Many other residents had arrived, some in pajamas, some half dressed, one only had a blanket around them. Everyone was wondering and guessing how strong the earthquake had been and where the epicenter was. Fortunately there was an old-school battery-powered radio in reception an we listened to try and learn more about what had happened. Eventually we discovered it had been an 8.8 earthquake on the Richter Scale. It didn’t surprise many of us due to what we had just experienced.
On this 10-year anniversary, my thoughts go out to all those who lost loved ones in this earthquake and the tsunamis that came after it.
Have you ever experienced an earthquake? If you have, let me know about your experience via our social media accounts.