Living through the World’s Largest Recorded Earthquake
(Photo: Valdivia man walking in front of collapsed homes: credit: NGDC, Pierre St. Amand)
When I woke up to the news of a 6.0 earthquake causing significant damage to the Bay Area of California, it immediately touched a chord with my family and me. While I was born and raised in the U.S., my parents emigrated from the South American country of Chile, perhaps the most earthquake-prone nation in the world and certainly in the top-five of that unwanted distinction; home to the world’s largest recorded earthquake back in the 1960s.
Now before I tease you too much, my mother’s recollection of the 1960 Valdivia earthquake in Chile – the world’s largest-ever recorded at an incredible 9.5 on the Richter Scale – is rather limited. My beloved mother was then just a strutting toddler, all of three-and-a-half years old, when the record-setting earthquake rocked southern Chile (the epicenter was about 350 miles south of her location in the Chilean capital of Santiago). My Mom says she doesn’t remember the earthquake specifically, and unfortunately her parents (my grandparents) have passed away. But, her memory of another huge earthquake years later is significantly better – and equally as scary.
While playing outside as an eight-year-old, my Mom remembers a massive shaking starting underneath her, and a cement wall crashing down right near her playing spot in a Santiago backyard.
“The wall separating the house started flying and went to pieces,” my Mom recalled while on the phone with me earlier today.
(Photo: Valdivia collapsed homes, mountains in background: Von Herbst, Wikipedia)
Fortunately, my Mom and all her friends were okay, but her nerves were frayed along with those who’ve spent considerable time in the snake-shaped South American country along the Pacific Ocean.
Raised in Santiago, a bustling city of over six million, earthquakes are an irregularly regular interruption to the lives of ordinary citizens of the metropolis. In fact, mere hours before the 6.0 quake shook up wine country of the northern Bay Area, a 6.4 tremor shook the major Chilean port city of Valparaiso (Chile’s second-largest city), a mere 60 miles northwest of Santiago.
As a kid, I used to visit Chile all the time, and I distinctly remember being spooked by earthquakes, and I also remember Chileans quickly (and orderly) running immediately to door gaps, away from windows and to other safe locations in the event of a tremor, no matter how big or small.
Earthquakes, to me, are the scariest weapons Mother Nature has up her sleeve. With tornadoes, hurricanes, heat, cold and floods, there’s usually some warning or anticipation. Earthquakes are perhaps the world’s greatest mystery, formed by the (generally) underground crashing of the tectonic plates on which the surface of the earth sits. And as the unfortunate residents of Napa, California found out early on Sunday morning, when those plates crash together, it can lead to an ugly and scary result.
Meteorologist Chris Bianchi