09 April 2012

New Word: Terremoto

In Italy, there are a lot of earthquakes. Like, everyday, somewhere, there’s an earthquake. I know this because I check the Instituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Volanologia (INGV) website every morning. And sometimes in the afternoon. And sometimes, before I go to bed.

In Italian, these events are called “terremoti”. A rather literal and descriptive word meaning, as I translate it, “land motion/s”.  I, however, call such an occurrence a “terror-moto” because I am terrified of them.

I’ve seen the destruction they cause. We were in l’Aquila, a provincial capital, whose center was, for all intents and purposes, destroyed by an earthquake in 2009. This quake happened at 3:30am, had a magnitude of around 6 and lasted, I’m told, for thirty seconds. Buildings collapsed. People died. The rubble is still around, behind fences.  Military squads are posted around the center to keep people away from the more precarious structures and buildings outside the center are riddled with cracks and holes. It's a terrible reminder of the rapid devastation a quake can inflict.

I lie awake at night, planning possible escapes. Around here, there are bridges built by the Romans that are still standing, yet the cement bleachers by the community pool built in 2009 are a crumbling mess. Our house was built in the ‘80s and everyone assures me that earthquake proof standards were met.  I feel  the house shake when a particularly heavy speeding truck lumbers past and I see the cracks. I’m not sure I believe them.

Our bedroom sits atop a pillar that goes 3 stories down to the side of the hill that leads to the river. The one window opens onto nothing but the drop down to the back driveway. The door leads to the hallway, to the bathroom with a window on a terrace on the street. If I can make it to the hallway, maybe I can make it to the terrace. If it’s still there. I’m pretty confident that if I make it to the street and head in the direction of Rome, the large building on the embankment across the road won’t fall on me. If I haven’t broken both ankles from the leap off the terrace.

This is what I was thinking about the night I felt my first quake. As I lay in bed, I heard a rumble, kind of like when the big trucks hurtle past, ignoring the “Slow down! Inhabited Center” sign. This rumble, though, worked its way up through the building and shook the bed, headboard to footboard, up against the wall for a couple of seconds. A magnitude 2.0 about 10km away. Not too bad. But worse than the one I felt in my fifty story office building in Manhattan. Not as bad as the last one I felt two months ago.

I was asleep. Like, truly asleep. As I turned over, the bed started shaking. A lot. I grabbed V. He snored.

I debated whether or not to wake him, whether or not to go to the bathroom, whether or not to keep breathing. This one lasted maybe 5 seconds which is an eternity when you can’t decide if another one’s coming that will cause your house to fall down with you in it and if so, would your husband rather be awake when it happens or not. Turns out that was it for the quakes that night. Also, it turns out, if I ever feel another terremoto, the husband would prefer to be awakened.

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