Mexico City Earthquake
It seems that each week I hear about another island that is completely destroyed and uninhabitable by natural disasters. Worse than any of the hurricanes was probably the earthquake that struck Mexico City earlier this week. It pains me to sit back and watch coverage of these events from the safety of my home.
As many of you know, Escape Artist has many business partners in Central America and is tied very closely to the communities down there. I have also invested a great deal of my career to helping the economies of Central America thrive. Over the past decade, there have been such great strides made towards developing the economies in Central America. It devastates me to see natural disasters like these, especially with the frequency in the past month.
The places being hit are some of the most beautiful in the world.
Two cities that I have lived in, Managua, Nicaragua, and Lisbon, Portugal, have been ravaged by earthquakes in the past. Decades/centuries later, the disasters are still talked about when discussing the history of each city. Because they were events that happened before I was born, I always viewed them almost as “folklore.” This is not to diminish the events, I just never saw the media coverage and have merely heard stories of the event from locals.
The destruction in Lisbon is widely regarded as one of the most devastating events in a city’s history. It was a perfect storm of destruction.
The Nicaragua earthquake of 1972 had a magnitude of 6.3 and killed over 4 thousand people. The effects of the earthquake are still visible today in the city of Managua. The city center was never truly rebuilt and all renovation was done surrounding the old city center. The buildings that remained standing in the city center were demolished because the damage was too intense.
Millions of dollars were sent by the U.S. government to aid the victims of the earthquake.
Baseball legend, Roberto Clemente, was killed in a plane crash en route to deliver aid to the earthquake victims.
Managua is a city that will always be held close to my heart, being the first city I lived in abroad. The country has made great improvements since the earthquake, but the event is an important piece of the history of Managua.
November 1, 1755 – Lisbon, Portugal
A gilded city stood in the middle of a world empire. The King of Portugal was said to have more gold than all the other princes in Europe combined. The King made his riches from the gold being mined in Brazil. The lavishness can be seen while visiting any of the old chapels in Portugal. Much of the money held by the royal family was given to the church.
On this morning, All Saints Day, thousands of people flocked to the many extravagant chapels and lit candles in prayer.
At 9:40 a.m. a tectonic shift happens roughly 250 kilometers off of the coast of Lisbon. The result was an 8.5 magnitude earthquake that ravished the city. Over a period of 6 minutes, much of the city was destroyed. Some accounts say that so much dirt and dust filled the air on the streets that visibility was nearly impossible. Many people fled to open city spaces by the Tagus river to avoid crumbling buildings. Thousands of people were seeking solace in Praça do Comércio, which is a 35-thousand-square-meter open aired square, located on the Tagus River.
The earthquake displaced trillions of liters of water 250 km offshore of Lisbon. The result was a tsunami that took 90 minutes to reach Lisbon. The people of Lisbon were unaware of the threat of tsunamis after earthquakes.
Walls of water in excess of 20 ft tall approached Praça do Comércio and the rest of the shores of Lisbon. There was no safe ground, no place to run. The square was flooded and the water pulled hundreds of people into the ocean waters.
Once the water receded, there was still more disaster to come.
The thousands of candles that were lit in celebration of All Saints Day caused widespread fire throughout the city. Hundreds of small fires could be seen when looking down on the city from the surrounding hills. As night time approached, the winds started to pick up, causing the fires to spread and merge. The inferno engulfed the downtown area of Lisbon, known as Baixa. This area is unique because it is flat and surrounded by hills on three sides, with the remaining side open to the Tagus River. Think of it as a bowl with an open side. This allowed the fire to suck in air from one direction, causing a self-sustaining wind system for the fire to feed off of.
In one day, Lisbon went from being a city of Gold to a city of charred and blackened bones.
To make matters worse, hundreds of thieves and vagabonds were freed from the crumbled prisons and scavenged the remains of the city. Most chapels were stripped of their gold. If anything could be looted, it was.
In the days following the disaster, many people’s instincts told them to return to their homes in Lisbon to see if that could salvage anything. This was extremely unsafe. There were many cases of murder and rape, in the days after the earthquake.
It was complete anarchy.
There was no shelter, safety, or food.
Historians have studied the bones of the deceased at the time and found cut marks on femur bones. This caused some to believe that people resorted to cannibalism.
One of the more prominent ministers in the government, Marquis of Pombal, ordered the military to sweep the streets of all crime. Extremely tall gallows were created and anyone caught looting was hung for the town to witness. Marquis of Pombal was determined to rebuild Lisbon.
Two hundred and fifty years later, Lisbon is a thriving city and one of the most beautiful in the world.
The 1755 earthquake in Lisbon is known as one of the deadliest earthquakes on record. The magnitude was between 8.5 and 9.0. The death toll was anywhere between 10 thousand and 100 thousand.
Earthquake, tsunami, widespread fire.
The city was essentially destroyed. Many philosophers wrote off the idea of “cities” in general. Some believed that the devastation was so large due to so many people living closely together in the downtown area. Jean-Jacques Rousseau used the Lisbon earthquake as an argument for his more naturalistic way of living.
There is no doubt that the earthquake this week in Mexico will impact how the city grows moving forward, but the lives lost will be talked about for centuries to come.
We are lucky that we live in such an interconnected world. Media coverage is swift, followed by aid. I am thankful for all of the volunteers helping displaced families and for all of the funds being created to help those affected.
There are many people that still need assistance in recovering from the past weeks of natural disasters. Choosing a reputable charity to give to can be hard. There are many scam websites out there, which essentially steal money. I would recommend reading this article that provides some guidelines for picking the right charity to give to for disaster relief.
I would encourage anyone to help in any way that they can. Let’s keep all affected people in our prayers and wish them all the best in their city’s recoveries.
I would like to specifically address the aftermaths of Hurricane Harvey and Irma. Many people in the south have been forced to vacate their homes and will be dealing with the aftermath in the upcoming months. A long time reader of Escape Artist is putting together a relief fund to help evacuate families and supply them with food and water. I would like to encourage you to reach out to Justin Scott at (204) 301-9099 and support his effort in any way possible. Every dollar counts and will go a long way. Thank you.