Saturday, February 26, 2005

The earth rocks below me

Last night I felt my first earthquake. Somewhere around four in the morning, I was woken up by a banging at the window. I’m not sure what caused the sound – the rocking of the window panes, some items on my windowsill knocking against each other – but it was a steady bumping sound. Then I realized that my bed was vibrating, moving to and from the window.

An earthquake, I thought. This is what it feels like. I wondered if I should go outside, but it wasn’t very strong and no one else seemed to be moving. It was dark and silent outside my window. So I stayed in bed and went back to sleep.

This morning I wondered if it was a dream. I looked around my room, inspecting the objects, wondered what could have moved, looking for evidence like cracks and scrapes. Everything looked pretty much as it was the night before.

When Shavkat stopped by in the morning I asked if he had felt an earthquake last night. I needed some kind of confirmation.

“Yes, I always wake up ten seconds before they start. I can feel them coming.”

“But there was one last night?”

“Yes, a little one.”

This wasn’t the first earthquake since I’ve been in Osh. It’s just the first one I’ve felt. They seem to occur in the middle of the night and being a deep sleeper, I never wake up. On several occasions, coworkers have told me about feeling an earthquake the night before, but I slept right through it.

In a recent edition of the English-language Central Asian Times, there was a frightening article about the number of earthquakes in Osh and the damage that could be caused if a major quake were to take place. They compared the potential for a major quake in Osh to what happened in Indonesia, claiming that one half of the buildings would come tumbling down in the case of an earthquake measuring more than 7 on the Richter scale.

The article claimed that Osh is in a region capable of producing earthquakes measuring up to 9 on the Richter scale. It said that Osh sits upon three or four tectonic fissures. They don’t know for sure because while Kyrgyzstan signed onto a project with China and other Central Asian countries to make an area seismic map that would predict seismic activity, Kyrgyzstan hasn’t made it’s part of the map because it can’t t get the $1500 it needs from the government.

This of course made me think about my housing. I live in an old house and it might not be the sturdiest. But compared to a multi-story apartment building, I think it’s better to be in a single-level home on a street of single family houses. It’s easy to get outside and there are no tall buildings around to topple over.

Just in case, I asked Nigora what I should do in case there is a big earthquake.

“We don’t have any big earthquakes here,” she said. “Only little ones.”

I told her about the article I’d read.

“But those journalists are just into sensation. After that article appeared, they said on TV that there was nothing to worry about.” I was disappointed to hear that. One of the points of the article was that the government was failing to invest in equipment that could predict an earthquake and warn people in advance. By telling people not to worry, the government-sponsored TV is only fulfilling what the article accused it of doing.

I tried to explain faults to her, that there is something under the ground, and if there are small earthquakes, there must be the potential for large earthquakes as well.

“Oh, you mean a volcano,” she said, clearly not having studied geology.

I looked up fault in the dictionary and explained how in places like Minnesota, that aren’t located on a fault, there will never been any earthquakes. But in places that are on a fault, they have the potential for earthquakes, and there is no guarantee as to the size.

She told me that we’re better off in single family homes than in the multi-storied apartment building. After the large Armenian earthquake, Shavkat was sent there as a rescuer. “He was in a neighborhood of six-story apartment buildings. But people told him that they used to be nine-story buildings. The first three story went right into the ground, with the people and everything. After that, he came back and told me that he wouldn’t live in one of those buildings for anything.”

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