Memories of the Chilean Earthquake (1960)
Yeah, I Felt the Big One: Memories of the Chilean Earthquake
My father had something of a Forrest Gump college experience, being “there” at a couple of unfortunate historical events. One example – in 1960, he was studying Physics at the institute in Bariloche, a town in the Andes in Argentina. That’s about 220 miles from Valdivia, Chile, more or less the epicenter of the 1960 earthquake that measured 9.5 on the Richter scale. That earthquake remains the largest one ever measured. (For comparison, last week’s earthquake in Chile was an 8.8.) It is worth noting – a tsunami resulting from the quake killed 61 people in Hawaii and 35 foot waves hit as far away as Japan and the Philippines.
Here are a couple excerpts of an e-mail my dad sent me:
YEAH, I FELT THE BIG ONE!!! The Mother Of All Earthquakes (MOAE)
That 1960 earthquake(s) was a different kind of animal. Usually there is a big quake and then several aftershocks follow. In MOAE there were at least 4 pre-cursors of magnitude around 8 and then the 9.5 hit.
In the early morning of May 21 I was with some other guys studying at the Chemistry lab. I noticed that liquid in a glass container was sloshing. I mentioned it to the others but they didn’t pay much attention.
At that time we were studying rather hard and didn’t know what was going in the outside world. We didn’t know that seismic activity had started at the other side of the Andes. There were 2 big quakes on the 21st and 2 more on the 22nd just on the other side of the Andes and we didn’t notice much.
Then around 5 in the afternoon of the 22nd, we were having tea or coffee at a cafeteria when a couple of big chandeliers started oscillating like a pendulum. We felt the ground moving and ran outside. We couldn’t stand so we sat at the curb which also was moving like crazy. There was also a very funny sound.
That was the huge 9.5 MOAE that had hit Valdivia a few hours earlier. There were many aftershocks – several with magnitude larger than 7.0 through June 4.
2 dormant volcanos awoke and 3 new ones emerged. All that time there was a thick rain of ashes coming down. We had to walk outside covering our faces with scarves.
I don’t think the media are adequatly describing the strergth of this earthquake — perhaps 100 times the energy of the last three major urban earthquakes in California or the Kobe earthquake in 1995. Certainly 3 times San Francisco 1906 and more likely more than that. It is amazing to me that Chile has handled this disaster as well it has.
I hope that our own officials are taking notes of this including the need to coordinate relief, declare martial law before things get out of control, the need to take control of supplies of food and water … and the need to disperse those supplies when needed.
Let’s hope that the perception that Chile is handling this disaster well is correct.