Lee Cuesta

Lee Cuesta

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Earthquake Envy

March 12 will mark the two-month anniversary of the devastating earthquake in Haiti. With only a magnitude of 7.0 on the Richter Scale, 212,000 people died because of the quake, and more than 300,000 were injured. The presidential palace collapsed. Mass graves were dug. In all, an estimated three million people were affected by the quake. These statistics are according to CNN.com, reported one month after the event.

I write “only a magnitude of 7.0” because more recently, on February 27, at 3:34 a.m., “a magnitude 8.8 earthquake strikes Chile while most people are sleeping,” according to CNN. However, as of March 4, this far greater earthquake has only killed “more than 800 people.”

As a result, the president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, might feel deprived. No one would blame her. Her country received the larger earthquake, but less damage. Not only that, the Haiti earthquake had already stolen the spotlight. So her public relations job has been to drum up support for a second-rate earthquake.

This is very important because $1,554,992,908 in contributions and commitments have already been raised for the Haiti disaster. In other words, there is a lot at stake.

Under these circumstances, leaders of nations and relief agencies become envious of other countries’ calamities. They develop “earthquake envy,” trying to demonstrate that “my earthquake is worse than yours,” and thereby cash in on the catastrophe gravy-train. At 9:10 p.m. on the day of Chile’s earthquake, CNN reported that Bachelet stated the quake “has affected two million people” (albeit leaving merely 214 dead and 15 missing). Earthquake envy.

Another example: after the February 27 earthquake in Chile, a magnitude 6.4 earthquake rocked Taiwan on Thursday morning, March 4 (which was still March 3 on this side of the International Date Line). Since there was no immediate report of any deaths or injuries, the third short paragraph of the story reverts instead to the Typhoon Morakot, which “killed hundreds” last August. Envy.

It’s like, who remembers the name of the second devastating hurricane that hit the Gulf Coast following Katrina? I can’t remember. I think maybe it was Rita.

Meanwhile, back in Chile, President-elect Sebastian Piñera – who takes office tomorrow – said, “Our government will not be a government of the earthquake. Our government will be a government of reconstruction.”

Amid all the hype, I think one of the more sincerely poignant declarations came from the Haitian President Rene Preval when this current rash of earthquakes began. CNN reported:

“The presidential palace in Port-au-Prince was in ruins. Preval, Haiti’s president, said he did not know where he was going to sleep Wednesday night.”

(Note: both the presidential palace and his own home had collapsed.)

“‘I have plenty of time to look for a bed,’ he said late in the afternoon. ‘But now I am working on how to rescue the people. Sleeping is not the problem.’”

Personally, I am a survivor of multiple earthquakes and aftershocks (e.g., Thessaloniki, Greece, where approximately 50 people died; Mexico City; California’s Bay Area; etc.), and I know what these different magnitudes represent, and how they feel. An 8.8 quake – the one that hit Chile – is a monster. It is hard for me to imagine that the death toll was not higher – i.e., comparable to Haiti’s. I still wonder what could account for the wide disparity? How could it be that Chile received the far larger, monster earthquake, but far less damage?

About Me

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LEE CUESTA, a journalist who worked in Mexico City, has written about the complexities in Chiapas for a decade, acquiring firsthand experience in both Tuxtla Gutiérrez and San Cristóbal de Las Casas. As a fully bilingual writer, the author has been published in periodicals such as Northwest, Eternity, World Pulse, Indian Life, Interlit, Prisma, El Faro and Apuntes Pastorales. The articles receive international response. In addition, Cuesta is the author of the novel entitled Once: Once, about religious intolerance and an independence movement in Chiapas, along with a conspiracy to recapture territory that once belonged to Mexico. In it, he combines the skills of a storyteller and investigative reporter to penetrate the historical, social and spiritual dimensions of this convincing tale. It provides a rare and stunning glimpse into the elements that render neighboring cultures so incompatible.

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