In 1975 i visited Antigua, Guatemala and fell in love with this small city located at the base of the Volcán de Agua (Volcano of Water). A year later Guatemala was struck with a magnitude 7.5 earthquake. I returned the following year to find entire city blocks lying in ruins. One of the things i remember vividly from seeing all the rubble is how challenging it was for my mind to comprehend or even grasp how this could happen. This phenomenon was brought back to me even more intensely when i was in Soquel, California during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. I referred to this in a piece i posted last August.
These visits to Guatemala happened so long ago, my God, nearly forty years! And yet as i close my eyes i watch a gentle flow of images pass by me, like a silent film. Memories of people, women and girls wearing hand woven huipiles of vibrant colors. The volcano, the small coffee plantation behind my house where i used to jog in the mornings, the cobblestone streets,the rain, the birds…. They all come floating back. I pause to allow myself to fully be in this moment of remembrance.
The most destructive earthquake in recent Guatemalan history was the 1976 quake with a magnitude of 7.5 Mw and a hypocenter depth of just 5 km. This shallow-focus earthquake, originating from the Motagua Fault, caused 23,000 fatalities, leaving 76,000 injured and causing widespread material damage. Surprisingly, the 7.9 Mw earthquake of 1942, though higher in magnitude, was much less destructive, in part because of its substantially deeper hypocenter depth of 60 km.