A step taken not landing where expected put proof to the blare of the seismic warning alarm for many in Mexico City on the night of the 7th of September. The walls swayed, and hanging pictures swung with fairground irregularity confirming the magnitude of the largest earthquake to hit Mexico in over a century.
As lights flickered and a cacophony of bangs and smashes and explosions of broken electrical transformers resonated throughout the city the city’s inhabitants waited through a minute of tremors that stretched on far longer than 60 seconds for anyone counting their breaths. Thoughts went to the earthquake of 1985 were 100,000 house crumbled and left possibly 10,000 dead and five million displaced. Fortunately and almost miraculously though concrete building wobbled like shacks in high wind, the city weathered the tremors and suffered remarkably few casualties.
The earthquake was a tragic event; the death toll is still rising and currently stands at 92. The bulk of the casualties were in Oaxaca, a state closer to the epicentre with far less resources to put into protection from seismic events. Not to disregard this tragedy, the earthquakes relative harmlessness within Mexico City, a sprawling megatropilis of over 20million souls, is a providential event. Were just a few factors varied it could have been a tragedy of immeasurable scale.
Firstly citizens of Mexico City had some pre-warning. There had been a false alarm the day before but the seismic alarm sound prior to the tremor and gave time to gather under doorways and to move away from glass and electrical cables. The earthquakes epicentres was further from the city than the disastrous 1985 quake and a fluke of geology meant the quake shook building from laterally rather than up-and-down which would have been more stressful on buildings.
Nevertheless the often maligned level of enforcement of building codes introduced after the 1985 earthquake has stood up to a dramatically literal stress test and engineers, architects, contractors and inspectors who have worked in the city must take some pride in their success.
But a lackadaisical attitude to the inevitable tremors of the future shouldn’t be adopted and most pertinently the successful lessons taken aboard in Mexico City must be applied to the rest of the nation as a matter of urgency. As a highly centralised nation it is anathema that the poorer states have not been prepared to the same way the capital has when foreknowledge of this earthquake was certain considering the geographical location of the city.
Mexico City passed through the earthquake almost unscathed; steps must be taken to ensure the rest of the nation is as fortunate next time.