I feel the earth move under my feet – The midnight quake on 17 April

Location of the earthquake hitting 12:50 a.m. on Tuesday morning, 17 April. Image via Google Earth.

It always seems to start like a semi truck passing outside running at breakneck speed. Then it turns into something like a train passing outside your window pulling tankers of fuel oil – just enough shaking to wake you out of deep sleep. Few go further than that.

The earthquake that struck Region V of Chile a couple hours ago was one of those quakes that went farther. The shaking was enough to warrant advising our two guests in the common area of the hostel here to get close to something solid, in this case a structural pillar, so that if the ceiling collapsed, it would create a triangle of life around them (standard practice for areas where roof collapse is possible). This one kept going and going and going, so that by the end of it, a normal “eh” response became something of a nervous shiver.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) put the strength of the quake at somewhere around 6.5 on the Richter scale. with an epicenter on the coast of Puchuncavi, northern Region V. The Universidad de Chile seismological service set it at 6.3, and further out to sea. Both reported epicenters are about 45 kilometers (27 miles) away. The most intense shaking reports came from here in Valparaiso, with many registering a VI on the Mercalli Scale: “Felt by all; many frightened and run outdoors, walk unsteadily. Windows, dishes, glassware broken; books fall off shelves; some heavy furniture moved or overturned; a few instances of fallen plaster. Damage slight.”

At the hostel, our slight damage was a single brick falling out of the wall. Also, a bottle of hand sanitizer hit the ground in the kitchen area. More severe though was the electricity going down about two thirds the way through the shaking. However, the blackout wasn’t widespread, just here on Cerro Alegre. Across the city, the lights still illuminated streets, even as car alarms were going off all across town.

Nervous National Office of Emergency of the Interior Ministry¬†(ONEMI) officials in the two neighboring regions issued preventive evacuations close to the coast (from Tongoy Bay to Constitucion), despite official reports saying that a tsunami wasn’t expected. When the power came back on, some 20 minutes later, TVN was already airing video of rooms shaking.

Claudio Vilches, riding his bike back to his new place from a party somewhere here on the hill, remarked that this was a very strange quake, in his opinion. Partly, the duration was a bit long for the size. I too thought we were feeling a Richter 7+ located somewhere in the north (area of Chile’s “seismic gap,” where a catastrophic earthquake is expected at any time). Frankly, I was a bit disappointed to find it a 6.5 at worst.

This represents only the second largest quake I’ve felt – the 2002 Alaska quake remains the strongest I’ve been through. Still, despite everything turning out okay, I’d still put this at one-beer on the shaky nerves scale (the amount of alcohol needed to get rid of the shakes).

Update: Intendente of Region V Raul Celis reports by Twitter that there was one death as a result of this event, apparently suffered by a 72-year-old in Quintera, near the epicenter, from a heart attack. Sadly, no amount of beer can fix that.

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