Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Earthquake 'Round Midnight

It was around midnight. The city was quiet, bedding down for the night. And then came the now familiar feeling. Our tall apartment block started swaying – strong, deliberate trembling. The wooden wind chimes clashed discordantly; glasses on the draining board tinkled; the panicked voices of our neighbours betrayed rising alarm. 90 seconds is a very long time in an earthquake. You think about many things in that time. We hid for some seconds, perhaps half a minute, under the big wooden divan but, to me at least, that seemed to make us more vulnerable. "Let's get out of here". So we grabbed keys, shoes, and ran down the stairs – turning, turning on ourselves down sixteen stories. Halfway down I caught up with my friend Seth who was struggling to carry his son. He handed him over and I carried the small, sleeping boy – innocently unaware of the panic around him – deadweight in my arms. We reached the ground level where hundreds and hundreds had gathered on the street. Everyone knew it was another earthquake, another huge tremor, which must have come from Sumatra again. "Again" – it was the word on everyone's lips. Was it just three months ago? There's been a lot of seismic activity recently but nobody was expecting anything on this scale. We waited. Neighbours began to call friends elsewhere – there had been damage all over the country. Slowly the panic died as people murmured quietly to each other, consoling and grateful. Is this now to be a regular part of our lives? Will there be another tsunami? After an age we returned to the flat, switched on the television as the story broke across the world's media, telephoned friends. I suddenly think fiercely of my friend Mai Lin who is on an archaeological dig near Kerinci in the middle of Sumatra – I can only hope that she and Sophie, her little daughter, are safe tonight. I can only hope that everyone finds sanctuary in this dark tropical night.


Anonymous michael said...

I'm so glad to hear that you are ok. Sounds like it was scary. You were still awake at the time? I hope your friend is ok!

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