How an earthquake in Mexico City taught me to be prepared for the next one

Last week’s earthquake that made headlines in eastern North America, reminded me of my own experience with temblors during a visit to Mexico a few years ago.

The first one I experienced on this trip was during my time in Oaxaca where a strong earthquake caused items to fly off of shelves and doors to swing open in the apartment I was staying in. Walking around the room was like trying to keep steady on a ship heaving on a stormy sea. I didn’t know what to do, so I ran outside where I found a crowd of people who had done the same.

A few days later, I was visiting friends in Mexico City which had experienced a deadly quake less than six months earlier that had caused 40 buildings to collapse, killed 370 people and injured 6,000 more.

While driving around the city, they pointed out some of the buildings that were still in ruins and said they were lucky to be out of the country when it hit because their previous apartment was badly damaged.

Later that night, I was woken by the sounds of every dog in the neighbourhood barking and the sound of someone’s voice next to me urgently saying “we have to get out” while shaking me awake. The room was violently shaking around us and I realized it was an earthquake.

Thoughts of the previous big Mexico City quake rushed through our minds as we dashed out into the street where we found groggy neighbours milling around in their night clothes. We wondered what to do next. We waited. There were no aftershocks and everyone gradually trickled back to their homes and tried to fall back asleep.

It turns out we broke every rule of what you are supposed to do when you are in an earthquake which tells me that even in a place where they are common, don’t think that locals necessarily know what to do when one strikes. Instead if you are travelling to a destination where earthquakes are a real risk, educate yourself on earthquake safety before you visit.

According to the Red Cross, we should have only left the building after the shaking stopped as most people injure themselves by falling. You should stay where you are, get down and cover yourself, protecting your head and torso from falling debris. Hide under a table or desk and stay away from doorways as they are not necessarily reinforced.

Earthquakes aren’t only events that happen on the television news to other people in faraway places. They can happen in the destinations where you spend your vacations so make sure you are ready if one strikes.

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