Great Earthquakes I have known: Quake #3, Colombia, 1994

Friday, March 21, 2008

Now that I am back from Mount Hermon, I can get back to my series remembering the most dramatic earthquakes that I’ve personally experienced.

Colombia, near the base of Nevado del Huila Volcano, June 6, 1994, (6.4 Richter). I was on the ground floor of a four story building in Bogotá, nearly two hundred miles away from the epicenter, sitting on a sofa and reading the newspaper. When everything began shaking, my first thought was that I was too far away from anything that I could potentially get under, so I sat where I was, while people streamed down from upstairs. It seemed like the quake went on for a very long time (maybe 20 or 30 seconds, but time during an earthquake may not correspond to normal time), so I eventually did get up and walk outside. Although some buildings were damaged in Bogota, the worst damage near the quake came from the lahar that followed. The quake shook a giant hillside into the Paez River, which then backed up to create a lake, which then washed out the dam and sent a 100 foot high wall of mud at 60 miles-an-hour down the valley. Several hundred people were washed away by this lahar, perhaps over a thousand. The number was hard to assess because many of those lost had been members of an outlawed band of revolutionaries, or they had been illegally growing heroin poppies

The area around Nevado del Huila belongs to the Paez and Guambiano people. I had two very good Guambiano friends at the time, a husband and wife. When they had not heard news from their families after a month, the husband made the very laborious trip by bus, to see what had happened. He was not a picture taker, but I bought him three disposable cameras, and asked him to take as many photographs as he could.

My friend came back with a remarkable story. The elders of his people had been so concerned about the illegal activities among their people, and the destruction of their culture by the easy-come drug money, that they had set a week of fasting and prayer. The earthquake occurred on the last day of their fast. The lahar washed away many of the poppy fields, and had sparked a religious revival among the people. Couples that had only been living together were getting married, and people were coming to be baptized and join Sunday school classes. There was continued physical suffering, but spiritually, a great turn for the better had come out of it. The seismological lesson is: we call these ‘acts of God’ for a reason.
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Posted by Brian at 10:13 PM  


I was downstairs in the basement at the time, and had built a tower of wooden blocks that went floor to ceiling. The ride was so smooth that the tower remained standing.

serapio said...
March 22, 2008 at 3:51 AM  

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