September 19: a terrible echo, a cursed date.

23 Sep

“On the thirty second anniversary of the strongest, most destructive earthquake to ever hit Mexico City in its long, long history, the annual earthquake preparedness drill was held. Two hours later, another very strong earthquake, hit. At least 44 structures in the city alone collapsed within minutes, who knows how many more were condemned after thorough inspections. Who knows how many more were weakened in ways that will not be seen until the next tremor.”

As I wrote the above paragraph in late September 2017, in a post that would remain a draft for five years, I reflected on how lucky I was, as all my immediate family was safe. I knew then that the official death toll would undercount reality, as it had before.

Sadly, in the country of my birth there is a long history of corruption in public office, and even though the building standards were tightened after hundreds of buildings collapsed or had to be razed after the 1985 earthquake, things had once again slipped as money changed hands under the table in the intervening decades.

Then, once again following public outcry after the 2017 earthquake, some political and judicial action was taken, very publicly; ostensibly to protect the public from unscrupulous builders and landlords.

Five years later, a short hour after the annual earthquake preparedness drill commemorated the 37th anniversary of the disaster of 1985 and the 5th anniversary of the 2017 one, while serving the very real purpose of educating the public, another major earthquake hit.

This most recent earthquake affected the states of Colima and Michoacán, where hundreds of homes collapsed in different localities, and roads, bridges and other infrastructure were seriously damaged, more than it did Mexico City (though there, too, dozens of structures, many already weakened by previous events, will likely have to be condemned).

Once again, all my family living in Mexico is safe; like millions of us around the world who lived through September 19, 1985, I waited in fear to hear from them, knowing the communication systems in the country would be overwhelmed by people touching base with each other.

It is strange to have flashbacks to ’85 that feel so much like PTSD, when I am so far removed from the reality of this earthquake. My memories of that September morning long ago are of fear, true; but more insistent are memories of the weeks and months and years that followed, the pain of misery of tens of thousands of families, and how the devastation of the nation’s capital changed the country.

And now that it’s happened again, on the same day, I have come to understand how societies living through similar catastrophic events, repeatedly, during the same season, would have come to regard the sheer unpredictability of the world and universe that allows for such synchronicity, as the result of some powerful and likely evil consciousness, and to take steps to appease it.

Science tells us a third major earthquake hitting in the same region in under four decades is serendipity. Our humanity demands a reason, and when there’s none, we imagine it.

6 Responses to “September 19: a terrible echo, a cursed date.”

  1. shallowreader 23/09/2022 at 9:12 AM #

    I’m so sorry. That this occurs on the same date is traumatising and that it just happened again is even more so.

    • azteclady 23/09/2022 at 9:29 AM #

      I cannot imagine how terrible this feels for the people who live there (including the majority of my family), when it can still hit me this hard despite the distance of time and geography.

      • shallowreader 23/09/2022 at 9:32 AM #

        I totally understand this feeling. Greece is on two fault lines. Earthquakes are common but when they hit, I worry about my family there. We might not be in the country but our soul ties are strong and enduring.

      • azteclady 23/09/2022 at 10:57 AM #

        They are; may your loved ones be safe too.

  2. Lori 23/09/2022 at 1:03 PM #

    Wow Az. We can’t have any idea what others carry in their bodies and minds… and of course the trauma of the earthquakes and the immediate fear which morphs into a completely different trauma as the rebuilding is corrupt and done for gain instead of community.
    I’m sorry this is something that settled into your bones.

    • azteclady 23/09/2022 at 2:26 PM #

      The trauma of the earthquake extended for literal years as people who’d lost their homes ended up living in tents in public spaces for *decades*.

      A few families out of thousands whose housing was destroyed or razed in 1985 (just in Mexico City proper), were placed into ‘temporary’ shelters (tin siding and roofing, no power or running water), where they were still living as of 2017.

      I know people in New Orleans, in Jackson MS, in Flint, in Houston, in Puerto Rico, who are still dealing with trauma on top of trauma, understand the desperation and anger, and now generational grief, of a government that simply doesn’t care.

      It’s just that I often feel that *I*, having been so blessed–no personal or material loss–have no reason to feel that anger or that grief.

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