Shake, rattle and roll

Like firemen, or the boyscouts, or any other hardy, resourceful groups you care to compare, Perú is ensuring its citizens are always prepared. With this in mind the national civil defence institution (Indeci) organised a nationwide earthquake and tsunami drill on 31st May.

I’m no stranger to earthquakes, I remember a 4.0 quake based in Wrexham that broke teacups in London in the ’90s, and more recently, in 2007, I was awoken by the tinkle of the glass menagerie in my actors’ digs one night in Leeds. However, the comforting thing about almost all natural phenomena in England is that, while it might make the adrenaline pump, it’s unlikely to kill you.

Here, I am reminded on a daily basis of my mortality, if not by the insane traffic and pollution then by the helpful signs that point my way to the ‘zona segura en caso de sismo’ or earthquake safety zone. Fortunately, it’s immediately outside my front door. Living on the ‘5th’ floor (floors here are calculated the same way as in the States) means, in the event of a real earthquake, waiting out the major shakes by the lift shaft, which is reinforced, then aiming for the great outdoors. Alternatively, waiting out the shakes under the bed whilst changing into the emergency brown trousers, then screaming until someone helps. Interestingly for a city where everybody is terrified of crime (a mental hangup from the days of the Sendero Luminoso) this means the most coveted apartments are those on the ground floor.

The drill, one of three scheduled for this year, took place on a national level at 10am, fifteen minutes before the end of class with one of my most boisterous (and least productive) classes. It was a surprisingly miserable day for a city that hardly ever registers the slightest drop of precipitation. The students charged into the field and braced in orderly circles, each with their right leg forward and left leg back, arms around the shoulders of the people next to them and heads down. Whether anyone would actually do that in a real quake I don’t know. I assume the best way to avoid falling over is to throw yourself on the floor voluntarily before it comes to get you. There were congratulations all round for a good drill and we headed back in just as the bell rang for break.

Later that evening, I was lucky enough to be able to take part in drill number 2, our apartment block had scheduled a drill for 8pm. Unsurprisingly, only a handful of people took part, many others remaining inside despite the blaring alarms or congregating on their balconies to point and stare at us. There were no circles, no heading for the safety zones, and no way of knowing who was in and who was out as far as I could gather, which was a shame as the building management had gone to some lengths to publicise the activity and prompt each household to have their emergency plan in place – brown trousers and filtered water under the bed, torch, tinned food, someone to turn off the gas and electricity.

Surprisingly, although really it just brings home our human frailty and futility in the face of nature, all these drills and reminders do make me feel somewhat better about the possibility of disaster. They also make the regular creaks and tremors a lot less threatening. So far in 2012 Peru has experienced over 60 tremors, some larger than others. I’ve only felt two or three. I like to use the earthquake hazards website whenever I have a dizzy moment that I suspect might be the earth moving rather than me launching into premature menopause. It’s a place where quake geeks gather to compare shakes.

So, until August and the next national drill, we’ve topped up the water and stashed the tinned tuna and we’re ready to go. Thankfully, Lima’s a pretty nice place to be otherwise. No volcanoes, no killer viruses, no killer flora or fauna, no actual killers, or at least no more than in any other major city. There’s something strange a-lurking in the ocean, but that’s a tale for another blog, another day.

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