So you probably haven’t heard due to a total loss of interest back in the US of all things Haiti, but Sunday night there was a minor earthquake, followed by another the following afternoon. It appears the earth stops shaking just long enough for you to get comfortable and lose some of your vigilance, after which it does it’s best to scare the crap out of you, rendering you scared and humiliated.
On Sunday night, at around 12:38am, the earth detonated beneath us resulting in a 5-second burst of terror-invoking panic. Surprisingly, Jillian and I were both slightly awake after I had (unintentionally) elbowed her in the face while sleeping. The 4.0 earthquake shook the house violently, prompting Jillian to explode out of bed and run to the sliding glass door that goes out to our balcony.
I, on the other hand, was so caught off-guard by what was going on that I pulled the covers up higher and stared at the ceiling in terror; a terrible, TERRIBLE, response to an earthquake. (This is better than my response to the last earthquake in the middle of the night, though, which was to hold Jillian down and tell her it was going to be OK. I didn’t know if it was going to be OK, and holding an earthquake survivor down during an earthquake did not prove to be a good move on my part.)
Our plan, that has been established for when we are asleep during an earthquake, is to jump out of our bed, go onto the balcony, and then jump down to the driveway. The 8 foot jump, in our minds, will be bearable enough considering the alternative is being buried in the rubble of our house. The jump would also position us right next to our trusty chariot, Pinotage, which is exactly where I want to be during a time of panic: next to someone I can trust.
But after the panic subsided last night, Jillian cautiously returned to bed and we began discussing our previously established plan, and whether it was the right one. There are two key questions posed when formulating this plan: Which way do you get out? AND Do you wait for the other person? These questions turned out to be really hard to answer, as you never really know until the situation presents itself.
Obviously, the answer changes depending on where you are, and what you are doing. In this particular instance (of being in bed, sleeping) you have to establish ONE plan because you are typically not in the mindset to evaluate these questions while you are half-asleep (and have probably just been elbowed in the face). So we took the questions one at a time:
Question 1: Which way do you get out?
Because of Jillian’s experience, we know that it takes a little bit of time for a house to come down on top of you. She thinks it took about 40 seconds for the Mission House to collapse on her, which gives you a fair amount of time to move. We cut that in half, and tried to figure out if we could realistically just run downstairs to the front door in 20 seconds, therefore diminishing the need to jump down 8 feet onto a rocky driveway in the dark.
It seemed viable, especially because you would only be underneath a concrete ceiling for about two seconds while running out the door. But our landlady thinks we should just stay inside upstairs, as the ceiling is just wood and corrugated steel, and “that would only leave a bruise!” she says. How awesome!
Answer: Undecided, but I think this one is likely to stick to the balcony-jump scenario. Because going to the front door requires us to go underneath a concrete ceiling, the chances that we say “Ouch, maybe we should have…” afterwards are higher, which we should try to avoid.
Question 2: Do you wait for the other person?
This one, to me, is much harder. To Jillian it seems obvious. In my opinion, staying together seems like the most important thing in an earthquake situation. I would probably never recover if there was a scenario where we decided it was every-Thorp-for-himself and I was the only one to make it. That just doesn’t seem worth it to me, because if Jillian is going to die, I don’t really see the point in living.
But she actually has a really great reason for why we should go it alone. If there was to be yet another humongous earthquake, the amount of time that it might take for us to find one another might be the reason for our untimely demise. If we put all of our focus on getting out as soon as possible, we ideally will both make it out unscathed, just at different exits. And in the event that one of us is trapped, the other could work to get the trapped one out.
There is a slight variation though, as Jillian has said that if the earthquake is at night she’s not going to leave the house without me. I think she said this to get me out of bed faster next time.
Answer: This is how I see this playing out: As the earth starts to tremble, Jillian goes running for the exit of the building we are in, as I chase after her. The fact that I want to be with her, and the fact that she is running out of the building without worrying about me, turns out to be a perfect combination as we burst out of the door, one after the other, with the building collapsing behind us. I will then do a roundoff back-handspring in celebration.
I joke about this stuff, but we all know it’s serious. Last night was really scary for both of us, and these discussions are unfortunately necessary when you live here. Anyone who has come to visit knows, we sit down and talk to our visitors before they go to bed the first night and walk them through the possible scenarios. It’s scary, and it sucks, but it’s life.
So the day went by, and at around 2:21pm I was riding Pinotage on my way to the hardware store to pick up some man-tools. As I walked into the store, the woman at the counter looked frightened and asked me, “Did you feel it?” “Last night? Yeah, it’s was scary,” I responded. “NO! Just now!” she yelled back. Her hands were shaking. “Everyone is going into the hills, they are afraid!” she explained.
And sure enough, the streets were filled with people attempting to make calls on their cell phones. I tried myself and the network was jammed, and I started to get worried. I didn’t understand, I didn’t even feel it. I called Jillian over and over again, but no luck. I tried to send text messages and they weren’t going through. I considering driving to her office, which is our official meeting place if there was another earthquake, but there was no damage here, so it couldn’t be bad there…right?
I was scared and frustrated, but decided that Jillian was not picking up because I was simply annoying her by calling while she was working, and went along with my day. A couple hours later she called, totally unaware that the 4.4 earthquake had happen. She was in a car at the time, and driving in Haiti is like being in a constant tremor anyways, so there’s no way to tell the difference.
In the end, it’s impossible to really plan how we are going to react in these situations. We can talk all we want about what we should do, but when the earth decides to mess with you, you usually just react the way your gut tells you to. For Jillian it’s to run, and I don’t blame her. She lived through the worst-case scenario when it comes to an earthquake. For me it’s to grab her and want to be close, which may be romantic, but not smart. But if/when it does happen again, I trust we will make the right decision and get out safely, because if we didn’t, that would totally suck.