FEW THINGS say more about a nation's character than the way its citizens react to a natural disaster, potential or otherwise. Some would suggest that Trinidad and Tobago's bloggers aren't truly representative of the national community, but I'd like to make the case for the contrary, in the form of the following review of the responses of the country's online scribes to the earthquake that rocked the twin-island nation on Friday morning.
The original dispatch from the University of the West Indies Seismic Research Unit reported a “preliminary magnitude” of 5.5, though reports from other sources said it could have been as high as 6.2. All most bloggers knew, however, is that at 9:08am on Friday the place began shaking like crazy. . . .
A few bloggers managed to relinquish for a moment the Trinidadian love of the byzantine and posted fairly concise and straightforward accounts of the incident. Oddly enough, I was one of them. At the computer writing an e-mail to the Global Voices editors’ list when the ‘quake began, I was able to to post to my blog within minutes:
Just felt the strongest, longest earthquake I’ve ever felt in my life. The house felt like it was rocking from side to side. Haven’t checked as yet for damage, but I’m certain that less sturdy buildings than this must have sustained some. It also took the power out. . . .
Hottie Hottie was quick on the draw as well, and brought a few hard facts:
Initial reports are that it measured 6.2 on the Richter scale and its centre was located 26 miles of the coast of Charguaramas. Several parts of the country are without power, including Port of Spain and Arima. Details are sketchy but initial reports coming in state there has been significant damage to several buildings with at least one report of a house being destroyed.
Also offering a measured, almost literary, account was Global Voices author Nicholas Laughlin, who posted the following at 5:23 that afternoon:
Friday, just after 9 a.m. I'm standing in the kitchen with a cup of coffee in one hand and a cordless phone in the other, talking to A. At that hour of the morning I'm often a little tottery, so I hear it before I feel it: that deep, sickening rumble like a continent's bones grinding. Earthquakes used to frighten me when I was a child, but for years now I've been nonchalant about them–part of my own personal myth of it-can't-happen-to-me invulnerability. I step calmly into the doorway as A., a couple miles away in Cascade, asks, “Do you feel that?”. . . .
Sirius, also benefitting from hindsight, posted this on Saturday:
In a country used to small tremors, initially the first jolt was a surprise but nothing to worry about; but then it got stronger. I was in the motion of rising from my chair to lean against the seperator for my desk and talk to someone, so I kept rising and looked around. With the building swaying, I knew this was definately the big one. I knew it, but I was still calm; just looking around for a safe place to go. Head for a doorway? No, too far. My desk would have to suffice. It was at that moment, as the quake grew ever stronger, that everything took a turn for the worst.
Start telling a Trinidadian about your trials and tribulations and he or she's likely to respond by telling you that his or hers are far worse. Friday's ‘quake also brought out the doom-and-gloom raconteur in a few of the nation's bloggers. Manicou captured the emotion of the moment in Trinidadian dialect:
That was the news report, now hear what really happen.
I sit down my desk, I just finished replying to comments left on the blog, and I was in the midst of writing a post on a story I had just read in the Guardian, when I feel like the house shaking. 1 second later I realize it was an earthquake. So I say, ok it must be one of them jokey 4.0 earthquake we does get so I will sit it out. Then all of a sudden thing get strong. The whole house start to shake like mad. Allyuh I was actually hearing the rumbling. Then all of a sudden I hear things downstairs start falling and crashing. [ . . . ] Because not only is the earthquake strong, but it going on forever. We sitting there and is like the thing just won't end. It just kept rumbling, and rumbling. You hearing children from the primary school nearby bawling for dear life. I began thinking about recent earthquakes in Turkey, Iran and Pakistan and I start wondering just how bad is this thing going to be? Is this the big one?
“It's funny,” Manicou continued, “but the first thing that came to my mind following the quake was ‘I have to blog this’.”
Also genuinely unnerved was SmallIslandGirl, especially when an aftershock hit around 2:30pm:
Scary stuff i hate being home alone when these things happen.
Then the other one hit a few minutes ago and i was in the mall and that was even more scary people started screaming and running and ah can't lie i ran for the nearest exit too and took a taxi straight home and now i'm searching the net to see what is the right thing to do during a quake because i suspect that the way the weather has been these few days we would be having a lot more of these.
Seche remained concerned well into Saturday:
I was home when around 2:20pm, I experienced an aftershock which was 5.5. I was very scared. I was home alone. Imagine we are being told that we have to prepare for THE BIG ONE. I am so scared. An earthquake bigger than a 6.0???
AND THEN THE LAUGHTER BEGAN. . .
But one of the overriding aspects of the Trinidadian character is an outsize appreciation for the absurd, and wasn't long before the humour-laced accounts started rolling in. saucydiva opened her take on the events with a shriek: “Yes allyuh I survived the earthqauke! (sic)”:
So I was on my way to the office, stopped for gas at the station at Barataria and as I came around the roundabout by Maritime Plaza I rush a lady to get in the lane of traffic, all of a sudden I feel the car shake, I say “ay ay the bitch bounce meh!”. Only to realise the shaking not stopping! The asphalt started moving like maracas waves, and me there feeling like I am in the bocas! I sent down my window, asked the guy in the car next to me if he was feeling that and he replied that it was coming over the radio…earthquake!
Weighing in after the electricity in her district returned, Karen Walrond wrote:
. . . Since getting back online, I've been reading rather scholarly summaries of the experience, with Richter scale numbers like 5.5 (no way) to 7 (probably not that high, but it certainly feels believable) being bandied around. Also, this one felt like it lasted forever. However, because I'm no seismologist, the only way I can describe the experience is like this:
shake-a shake-a shake-a (“Oh, wow,” I think, “an earthquake!”) shake-a shake-a shake-a (“Damn,” I think some more, “this is an earthquake…”) shake-a shake-a (“…okay, it's stopping now…”) SHAKE-A! SHAKE-A! SHAKE-A! SHAKE-A!! (“HOLY SHIT!” — at which point I run out the door outside) SHAKE-A! SHAKE-A SHAKE-A! (I'm outside, quietly freaking out) . . . .
Even non-Trinidadians got into the act, with Bahamian Nicolette Bethel taking the opportunity to engage in some chest-thumping for the Bahamas contingent that was in Trinidad for the Carifesta arts festival: “Is it coincidence that at the same time the Bahamian contingent is here, T&T are feeling some of their strongest earthquakes in years?”
NO MAJOR DAMAGE?
While initial reports stated there was “no major damage or injury”, the news emerged the following day, however, that that one person was fatally injured and several rushed to hospital. The University of the West Indies Seismic Research Unit reported a further aftershock at 6:03pm on Friday.