“God just pass through,” the Rasta man concluded while calmly filming with his phone, the chaotic scenes in one of the busiest areas in downtown Port-of-Spain (POS). The panicked flock of birds darted back and forth above crowded Charlotte Street their collective compass confused, when the frantic wailing and screaming erupted as vehicles swayed, buildings large and small trembled, and power lines rocked like hammocks with hangovers.
Some young men bolted into a blinding sprint, strangers clung on to each other and what they could, crying as the desperate about the deadly, for the divine. “God just pass nearby Trinidad” the dreadlocked citizen transformed into candid cameraman chuckled in his commentary on the biggest quake to hit the twin island republic in decades. Nearby the cross and orb, atop the famous Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral which marked its bicentenary completion this year, dangled precariously as sections gave way.
As always, indefatigable humour seeped through from bantering about the Venezuelan “invasion” to the recent Customs import ban on adult sex toys. Within minutes of the strike termed the longest in recent memory, social media lit up with posts and videos. “All this vibration as soon as we ban the vibrators” one contributor quipped, as others insisted “God is a Trini” and now “the whole country start (sic) to vibrate.” Trinidad and Tobago’s (TT) defiant ability to make a joke about anything and everything may be a trusted coping mechanism, but for many, including us along the central coast in the circle of impact it was initially no laughing matter even though no lives were lost.
Just three weeks into our unexpected move from near the crowded capital and northwest, into our latest home in a more rural area next to a tiny river blessed with tall trees, bantering birds and lazy iguanas, I was sharing a late lunch/early dinner with our daughter, Jasmine, delighted that she had finally arrived after falling asleep on the air-conditioned public bus from the University of the West Indies (UWI) in St Augustine and missing her stop.
She woke up disoriented and disbelieving after it pulled into the southern city of San Fernando some miles away, packed with savvy shoppers preparing for the new school term, but eventually managed to wrestle a precious place on a straggler taxi and several exhausting rides and hours later, her sense of planetary polarity, direction and insomnolence momentarily restored, strolled in struggling with bags of gifts.
The vibrations shot up through the heavy floors, we leapt to our uncertain feet, and the shaking only worsened and stuttered on. My husband, Tony talked non-stop as he tends to do when worried, while trying to reach for and reassure me, undaunted, even as I fiercely argued with him and Mother Nature, “No!” hoping it is not the long-feared “big one.”
As our trio stumbled uncertainly towards the front, we were forced to halt and stare as the cut chandelier abandoned all pretense of imported Austrian decorum and danced wildly, the numerous facets flashing in the sunlit dining room transformed into unlicensed disco and Carnival corner. The transparent pendants in the kitchen soon joined in their vigorous version of tripping the light Trini fantastic. I was transfixed by an undulating tropical plant on the teak stairs and disconcerted by the strange fact that the giant leaves appeared to be cheerily waving at us.
However, I feared that a much-loved solid Guyanese hardwood sculpture I had carted around for decades, and which I had unpacked and perched on the nearby high and narrow ledge only that morning, would topple but it stayed stationary and soothing, like the sturdy samaan it was carved from in my comforting South American homeland of little shaking, lost worlds and low shorelines.
I should have known something was up, when I earlier spotted the black baby snake casually hanging out in the living room. Thread or water I could not tell, as it sat in a smooth coil so tiny, I thought it was an anemic lost millipede, until it started to move and surprised me by raising a head of gleaming eyes. It quickly found company with the glistening foot-long specimen, I had rescued with a dust pan a day before, from slithering in a rainy puddle way too close to the back door for comfort, in an eventful wildlife week to hopefully residing permanently across the border and fence minus necessary re-entry visas and despotic Homeland Security, ensconced in cool greenery rather than sauntering on porcelain tiles.
Declaring that I was going outside to check on our authorized pets, I pushed forward, and we piled through the doors to find people all around us doing the same, clamouring for closer contact over their fences, gates and on the empty street. “I have never seen so many of our neighbours” our daughter stopped in her tracks declared, as she observed nonplussed and puzzled that all the fine residences were indeed proving to be inhabited. Her fearless father darted across the road for much delayed friendly chats and new acquaintances with the loquacious locals, on deciding that in times of terrible and tectonic stress he needed far less disagreeable company and more semblance of control than a pair of familial females hell-bent on pursuing questionable domestic animals, rather than decent conversation.
Bugsy our proverbial young white rabbit saved two months ago by Jasmine from certain death as a lone scrawny neglected kit in a cramped pet shop and an even tighter cage, stood frozen atop her spacious sleeping box, hazel eyes wide, large ears fanned to pick up the slightest shiver, wondering what was up with this third planet from the sun, all ready to race to her Alice. Our mixed “pompeks” the lovable Antiguan mother and daughter pair of mop-hair street rescue, Mitzi and the dark Sheba were carrying on, as always like creatures possessed, so it was difficult to tell whether they were as usual, excited to see us or just rattled by the quake. They raced to join us in the empty lot adjoining the house that had hung on unscathed, being constructed with concrete and reinforced steel.
Assessed as a 6.9 in magnitude by the UWI Seismic Research Centre (SRC), the quake snapped a chunk out of Centipede Island in Chaguaramas up in the northwest peninsula, tore apart foundations, floors, posts, walls and ceilings in some homes and government buildings, zigzagged cracks in expensive high-rises erected on reclaimed land, crumpled facades and picture windows into powerful cascades of brick and glass that damaged cars, swept shelves of groceries, parfums and alcohol, and sent stunned residents from Prime Minister to pauper into a breakout of fear and loss of confidence, leaving people gasping for air, control and reassurance.
UWI’s Dr. Joan Latchman who has repeatedly warned of the dangers of living in a seismically active region revealed that the shaking was the strongest on record in 50 years. “Now at 6.8, even if the magnitude goes up to be 7, it is a significant magnitude earthquake. The last one we had of this size was in 1968. But, it is still not the strongest earthquake we can have in our area. So, we could consider this as is another one of those events that keeps us aware that our region is seismically active and that the strong earthquakes can occur and will occur and be stronger than what we had this evening” she said Tuesday.
Using a different scale and instruments, the United States Geological Society (USGS) puts the August 21, 2018 5:31 p.m. tremor at least 7.3Mw. Magnitude is based on measurement of the maximum motion recorded by a seismograph. USGS explained several scales are defined, but the most commonly used include local magnitude (ML), referred to as “Richter magnitude” and moment magnitude (Mw). The moment magnitude (Mw) scale, based on the concept of seismic moment, is uniformly applicable to all sizes of earthquakes but is more difficult to compute. While all magnitude scales should yield approximately the same value for any given earthquake, variations do happen as in this instance.
As the numerous aftershocks continued to roll into TT and the region from around the not-so-sweet Venezuelan state of Sucre yesterday, floors, spines and nerves shivered with heavy jolts recorded from 5.9Mw in the early morning. Seismologists predicted that these could continue for years, noting the Tuesday event’s significant depth of 123 kilometers beneath the Earth’s surface and the distance to heavily populated areas limited the damage and losses.
Whether we Drop, Cover and Hold on as recommended or Run, Record and Post, we must breathe a sigh of relief that we were immensely lucky and that the next one, in the immortal words of the Trini singer Baron, hopefully “Doh Rock it So.”
ID is struggling with massive centipedes, snails and all manner of lost critters, but she can still laugh at the Trini who imagined asking the doubles man for slight pepper in his popular curried channa and twin “bara” mix, when BOOM “earthquake shake he hand” and now he swamped with the mighty Scorpion!
Editor’s note: The 1838-indentured Indian series will return next week.