Washington Joins the Ranks of the Tectonically Challenged

24 August 2011

I was on a boat on the Georgian Bay in Ontario at 1:30pm yesterday so the quake back home didn’t register. Was relieved to hear that everyone back at FINCA HQ was Okay.

I knew that our fair city was built on a fault line — as in “It’s your fault” “No,it’s your fault” — but I have to say I never expected to add Washington to my list of near misses.

My first was in San Martin, Jilotepeque, Guatemala, where I lived between 1971 and 1973 as a Peace Corps volunteer. I recall being awakened some mornings by what I thought was a bus rumbling past on the cobblestone street outside my window. The house would vibrate like a tuning fork, and dust would fall from the cracks between the boards in the ceiling. I didn’t realize it at the time, but these tremors were a warning to the devasting quake that struck the country in 1976, killing 23,000 people. San Martin was close to the epicenter. A child was killed in the house I lived in when the adobe brick roof collapsed.

The second near miss (in terms of geological time) was in El Salvador. My wife and I lived there in 1983, and — through erie coincidence — it was again three years later that a major quake struck, killing between 1,000 and 1,500 people in the capital, San Salvador. There again, there were warnings. I recall sitting on the patio of our mansion (all the expats rented mansions from the oligarchs who had fled the violence to Miami) when, every month or so, a tremor would hit, and we would all run, laughing, out into the garden. Sometimes it was the “tuning fork” type tremor, with a massive vibration, and other times a “slippery” side to side motion like you were standing on one of those boards on a log, trying to keep your balance.

I was safely in Washington, D.C., at our annual planning retreat in January, 2010, when the Haitian earthquake struck. Thankfully, we didn’t lose any employees, although several of our clients were killed.

It’s scary when Mother Earth turns on us, but she does usually give us warning.

Rupert Scofield


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