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Where Will You Be When an Earthquake Strikes?

Two days after my security instructions meeting as a novice to Mexico City, I woke up to an earthquake with a magnitude of 8.2. It felt like a dark way of destiny, the universe or whatever it is you want to call it, testing how well I have been listening during the talk. I can luckily say that I am fortunate enough to be well. My thoughts go out to all of those who have lost their homes and their loved ones, especially in the states near the coast, even though my words are the last thing concerning them.

There have been a couple of times when friends would report about earthquakes happening in Pristina when I lived in the Balkans.  Every time that happened, I was traveling somewhere in the region and could never really tell what they were talking about.

The first earthquake that I have ever witnessed is said to be the strongest in Mexico for the past 100 years, even more so than the one that destroyed the city and took thousands of lives back in 1985, according to The New York Times.

With the experience of past earthquakes, Mexico has put in place an alarm system that sounds about 40-60 seconds before the quake hits the city in danger. Within these 40-60 seconds one must either leave the building or find oneself by the sign saying Zona de Seguridad, which in most buildings is located by the elevator shafts but can also be found outside in the streets.


The alarm signal halls through the entire city with such an intensity that it is impossible to miss it. Or at least this is the way it should be, shouldn’t it?

One of the scary things about this is that if there is no alarm, like there hasn’t been in my building or even my whole neighborhood last night, one might just as well sleep through it. Had it not been for the construction of our apartment block, a standard that has been strictly modernized since 1985, who knows what would have become of me by now?

It was not the shaking that woke me at about 11.55 p.m but rather the clappering of the plastic decorations on my windows against the glass. Imagine being on a ship and getting sea-sick. And now imagine that you are not at sea but in your apartment on the 14th floor of a building, surrounded by even taller ones.

It was surprisingly quiet for an event like this. No screaming, nothing falling, no sirens. Sirens that should have woken me up for the sake of safety in the first place. Is this some sort of irony?

Last night I was met by a mixture of terror, fascination and confusion. The idea that a skyscraper weighing dozens of tons could swing back and forth like a leaf or a thin tree branch in the wind simply didn’t want to get into my head. One might say I was totally dumb stricken. I have always known that earthquakes exist and what damage they can do but somehow, just like tsunamis and hurricanes, for a European like me, they were something that has always been far, far away.

The cat had disappeared and was nowhere to be found. I cannot imagine the heartache it would cause to leave him behind and luckily I did not have to because by the time I had woken up and was about to leave my room, it was over.

While the people in the coastal regions are dealing with maybe the most serious aftermath of this event, school lessons got suspended in a number of states and many companies have ordered their staff to work from home. But slowly, life starts to resume as shops and restaurants stay open as usual and people can be seen walking in the streets, equally as usual.

This may by far not the worst thing to happen to me and yet yesterday night feels a bit like a dream. A dream I might just as well have to get used to as a new possibility of reality. For what seems so strange to me as a newcomer has been long known to the people of my new host country.



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