The 16th floor started to swing under me

Before traveling to Chile I totally disregarded the fact that this country registered the biggest earthquake of all times. I did not really pay attention to the fact either that smaller shakes are normal here. Nor I connected it with the fact that one of the most popular drinks of Chile was called the terremoto, which meant earthquake. One tends to ignore little signs until becoming part of it.


Chile lays on the meeting point of two large tectonic plates. The Nazca-plate is pushing under the South-American plate with a high speed of 7-8 centimeters per year, which causes continuous earthquakes and tsunamis in the region. Since our planet consists of such tectonic plates, similar activities can be observed across the Chile-Alaska and the Japan-New-Zealand lines. Chile, however, recorded the biggest earthquake of all times on 22th May 1960, which had a magnitude of 9,5 on the Richter-scale.

Depressing memories

One day after my arrival I participated on a city tour, where our tour guide talked about the last super-earthquake of Chile. It happened on 27th February 2010, and had a magnitude of 8,8. This was the 6th biggest earthquake of all times, and lasted for 3 long minutes. People thought that it was the end of the world. Interesting fact, that while the 2010 Haiti earthquake had around 200 thousand registered victims, the 500 times bigger Chilean earthquake had around 800 in total. All the same, the reconstructions added up to one fifth of the yearly GDP of Chile, and thousands of people lost their homes. The reconstructions are still ongoing. As I saw almost no sign of damage, I was only listening to the story as a painful paragraph of the Chilean history. I never thought that soon I would be part of this never ending story.
The sculpture of Virgin Mary from the facade was damaged in 2010, now it is inside the Cathedral


Two days later I was sitting in a flat on the 16th floor when the ground started to move under my feet. I was alone and could not ask anyone if it was that. Then it started to shake stronger, and I was scared to death. I felt powerless while I was grabbing the table. The whole thing lasted for about 20 seconds, but for me it felt like long minutes. Then it stopped. The second shaking wave was smaller, so I took all my courage and went to the balcony. I remembered that one friend told me that in 2010 his sister looked out of the window and saw the high buildings swinging. I was expecting something similar. Unluckily or luckily I did not see anything similar so I calmed down and knew that it was not a super earthquake. Later I found out that I should not have gone to the balcony, because in 2010 another friend almost fell out of it during the earthquake.


This chapel was also damaged in 2010.

My friend called me to make sure that I was okay. While I was telling him excitedly what a shake it was, he calmed me down saying that they do not even call it as an earthquake, but rather a tembloncito (small shaking). Earthquakes are so common in Chile that locals do not consider any shaking below the magnitude of 7. They also know that an earthquake similar to the one in 2010 happens in every 15-20 years. This, however, is not written in stone, and since an earthquake can not be predicted, this time many people ran out to the streets panicking. Later they were just smiling on it.

The security triangle

In the evening I proudly told to my friend that in Hungary we were taught that during an earthquake one should hide under the table. He smiled at me and explained me where was the security triangle and why I had to hide there if the ground started to shake. The security triangle is the narrow line in front of the longer side of a sofa or a bed. If a wall or the cieling falls, it closes a triangle with the bed and the floor. That is the triangle where one can be safe.

The next day I saw in the news that the earthquake had a magnitude of 5,7 on the Richter-scale. I called my family to tell them how much the building was swinging on the 16th floor and Hungary had bigger earthquake only 150 years ago. Later, my story about swinging buildings fall down when I found out that most of the earthquake resistant buildings were constructed in a way, that the waves coming from the ground can not make them swing, but are running upwards on the walls. That is why while in some flats one can not feel the shaking - because they are on the lower band of the wave - in other flats it feels like swinging.

Only the bar of the roof survived the earthquake.
Earthquake resistant buildings

These buildings are reliable and can resist the biggest, recorded earthquakes. Thanks to this, during the 2010 earthquakes only a few collapsed from the hundreds of similar constructions. The majority of the death was caused by the running and panicking people on the streets and the collapse of old buildings. I heard that during an earthquake people automatically want to run out to the streets, however those who could save their sang-froid should try to keep them inside the building. The ones staying inside usually all survive the catastrophe.

Chileans in general are not not afraid of the earthquakes. They got used to it, it is part of their lives. They compare it with having a child: this is a natural thing, but one can not be prepared until experiencing it. The fact that the highest building of Latin-America, the 300-meter high Gran Torre Santiago is in Chile, shows their self-confidence. 

On the right side is the highest building of Latin-America.
During the next days I was asking everyone where they were in 2010. Surprisingly, everyone knew what I meant by 2010. One was in a bar, one was in a skyscraper, other was hosting visitors, or giving singing lesson to pupils. They all told me different stories, but they all talked about it as a part of their lives. While listening to them, this sense of security and calmness started to dominate me. I already knew what to expect, where to hide and what not to do. All the same, we all agreed that we would not be on top of Gran Torre Santiago during the next super earthquake.


The original in Hungarian is published here.



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About Tiny Girl With Big Bag

Hobby writer and autodidact photographer whose passion is to travel and get to know new people and cultures. She has been on 4 continents and 30 countries, and the outcome is this travel blog where she shares travel stories, thoughts, tips and photography always through a subjective eye.

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22 comments:

  1. This is a great post! Really entertaining and with lots of information as well. Loved reading it :-)

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    1. Thanks Bram! This is the style which in the newspaper where I write articles to. I am happy that you liked it, and hope that for your next earthquake I could give you some useful tips ;)

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    2. I really wish I could read all your newspaper articles! Too bad I don't know any Hungarian, except for those few words in that blog post ;-)

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    3. Bram, tomorrow is coming out another article.. I got permission to translate them into English. Hope that you will enjoy them, too :)

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  2. Lovely post. It's a great thing that one can enter other people's lives and try to experience life through their eyes.

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    1. That is exactly why I like to spend time with locals. Many times I feel that all the time and stories they share with me, is a gift and it is great to always learn something new. Thanks for your comment :)

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  3. I'm not sure I could ever get used to earthquakes!!!

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    1. Me neither. Though if once it happens at least I know where to hide ;) Thanks for your comment.

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  4. I went to Antofogasta a month/two after that earthquake in 2010. People's attitude was pretty much as you described, they accept that they happen, often.

    I've only ever once been caught up in an earthquake. It was in the middle of the night in California and scored around 3 on the richter-scale. It was a little freaky for me by not being used to it. It sounded like a loud train and I watched the room and furniture shake, then repeat itself two or three times. Such a weird experience.

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    1. Wow, so you also know Antofagasta :) being caught by an earthquake is a weird feeling, and the bad about it is that you can not do anything. Once I heard that there have always been earthquakes, the only difference that nowadays there are buildings. Until mankind was living in caves, there were no big catastrophes caused by shaking. A good point of view, too. wishing you 'earthquakeless' travels ;)

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  5. oh I would be really scared. I have never experienced an earthquake and hope to keep it like that :-)
    Great post.

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  6. Great tip about the security triangle! Not sure if you ever get used to earthquakes because I've only experienced one. But it totally freaked me out.

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    1. Maybe if you feel earthquakes every week you can get used to it somewhat. But I am not used to it either, so this one freaked me out, too :)

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  7. Earthquakes are one of the scariest things I've ever experienced. Last spring I was in Bologna, Italy and there was a mild quake of about 5.9, it was very freaky! I felt so powerless and small.

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    1. wow, yours was bigger than this one,and I felt the same powerless feeling. hope that we can avoid earthquakes for a while ;)

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  8. Szép város. Mintha egy európai városban járna az ember.

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    1. Igen, nagyon sok a hasonlóság :) végülis spanyolok alapították.

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  9. Such an interesting article. Very glad you were ok first and foremost. There was a similar scale earthquake near Bologna this year. It was the first time I'd experienced anything like it. It's very unnerving when the ground beneath you suddenly seems so unstable. thanks for sharing your experience.

    saritaagerman.blogspot.it

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    1. Thanks Sharita! what a coincidence, if you look at the comment of nomadbiba above, probably she is talking about the same earthquake in Bologna. it must have been a scary experience, thanks for sharing :)

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  10. Never realised that its normal in Chile. Something like this could still be scary for those who are not used to something like this. I think I would be scared.

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    1. Maybe you would. But then you would already know where to hide ;) thanks for the comment.

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