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The Anxious Girl’s Guide to Earthquake Etiquette

mexico city earthquake

Late last night, on what was rather ominously (almost) the 32-year anniversary of the catastrophic 1985 earthquake that flattened much of Mexico City and left thousands dead, Mexico’s capital bore witness to its strongest earthquake in century. Coming in at 8.2 on the Richter scale, the epicentre was just outside of Chiapas, with both that state, neighbouring Oaxaca and Guatemala taking the brunt of this massive earthquake, reporting destroyed buildings and several dead.

However, while no one was reported dead in Mexico City, the capital was also on the receiving end of some pretty terrifying trembling and telephone wire wobbling, with videos showing the Ángel de Independencia swaying from side to side.

I mean, I always say go big or go home (that’s a lie, I literally never say that), but I didn’t really envisage that applying to first earthquake experiences. While I didn’t have the nightmare luck of anyone located in the south of the country, it was still pretty scary to be involved in and, because I got woken up by the binmen at 6am and couldn’t get back to sleep, I’ve written up what I’m dubbing The Anxious Girl’s Guide to Earthquake Etiquette, a 20-point plan to dealing with a Mexico City earthquake, coming to a bookstore near you.

No, not really.

My experiences aren’t that important.

Just read it here, instead.


THE ANXIOUS GIRL’S GUIDE TO EARTHQUAKE ETIQUETTE

 A totally serious guide to anxiously navigating your first Mexico City earthquake, all while keeping your spirits up. Disclaimer: This is obviously not a totally serious guide. Come on now.

  1. Get off to a good start and totally miss the sounding of the citywide alarm because you were watching a Club de Cuervos Season 3 trailer. Instead, rely on the shouts of your roommate to spur you into action. Don’t turn off the trailer though, that would just waste time. Just grab your keys, phone and coat and get the hell out of there, with the dulcet sounds of Chava Iglesias Jr. ringing in your ears. And those of your also evacuating neighbours.

  1. Leave the building in a calm and orderly manner, stopping only to break apart a brewing altercation between your housemate’s and a neighbour’s dog. Silently rue the day you decided to wear shorts to bed and, also, not shave your legs for two weeks. Wonder if you really could have taken five more seconds to put on trainers instead of flip flops. Chide your feminist self for worrying about arbitrary body hair and buying into societal norms of female appearance and beauty standards in the midst of a serious natural disaster.
  2. Make pleasant chitchat with your neighbours on the street. Continue to rue the day you decided to wear pyjama shorts for bed.
  3. Shiver.
  4. Freak the fuck out as you lose all sense of balance, rationale and coordination during the first of the tremors. However, maintain the ability to anxiously back away from the ridiculously high and dangerously wobbly telephone pole that’s right outside your building. Do some ninja maths as you work out where to stand so as to not get hit in the (likely) event it gives into poor construction and the laws of physics and comes crashing down to earth.
  5. Continue to wonder why your legs have turned to jelly. Shiver some more as the massive adrenaline rush ceases.
  6. Silently judge the neighbours who didn’t leave the building, with the exception of the man on the fourth floor who uses a walking frame. He gets a free pass. Continue to judge the other residents who didn’t evacuate though, remembering back to your student days when you’d leave a fourth-floor flat for a fire alarm (shoeless and in the depths of winter, might I add), even though you were, like, 98% sure it was just some drunk dickhead who’d put chicken nuggets in the oven and gone to sleep.

  1. Ponder the structural integrity of your old as shit building on the way back in. Don’t forget to inspect the floor and hysterically claim that the crack in your living room floor has, in fact, tripled in size. Spoiler alert: it had not. Your building is just a piece of shit.
  2. Message your mum. You’ve learnt your lesson about not telling her things in a prompt and timely manner. Then passive aggressively message all the friends who still haven’t checked you’re OK (note to self: this may or may not be all your friends) and demand attention in your time of need.

Related Post: How NOT To Tell Your Mum You’re Moving Abroad

  1. Make a plan of action with your housemates for any potential aftershocks. This may or may not include any or all of the following; doing your inevitable nervous poos as fast as possible so you don’t get caught on the toilet in the event of further tremors, leaving the kitchen light on so you can see the door if you need to leave again in a hurry, wondering why you’ve never bought a torch and instead packing candles and lighters into a rucksack.
  2. Speaking of which, packing an earthquake grab bag suddenly seems like the only sensible thing to do, even though you literally just experienced the worst Mexican earthquake in a literal century. The contents of this bag should include: lipbalm, headphones, squashed cereal bars, more lipbalm, a balled up puffa jacket, your travel pouch complete with a five-pound note (not that useful) and passport (useful in that event they try to deport you from outside your flat whilst wearing pyjamas). And toilet roll. In case you need to…shit in the street? Idk. (Full disclosure: these items are likely not the officially recommended items to pack in an earthquake grab bag. Please don’t follow this advice.) 

  3. Place trainers conveniently in middle of bedroom floor, so your feet won’t be cold if you have to leave again. Trip over said trainers when you get up to go to the bathroom an hour later.
  4. Cheer yourself up with two to three hours of meme browsing, because there’s nothing Mexico does better in times of crisis than express meme production. And there’s nothing Mexican media does better than compiling said memes within an hour of the earthquake.
  5. Alternatively, tag everyone you know in viral social media videos of the event so they can truly get a sense of your situation. They will love it and you will feel vindicated and important.
  6. Then, post links to serious news articles, so you can feign intellectuality, while actually just looking at memes.

Related Post: Must-Read Books About Mexico

  1. Neck a cup of sugary tea, because, while you’re on board with the bolillo pa’l susto memes, you’re British and know deep down that only tea solves anything in times of crisis. How much sugar do you need in this sugary tea? More than normal will suffice. There’s a time and a place to brag about your superior, sugar-free tea drinking habits, but the aftermath of a magnitude 8.2 earthquake is not one of them.mexico city earthquake
  2. Read about areas that were far worse affected and hate yourself for being a whiny, shitty person, only concerned with herself. I mean, uhh, yourself.
  3. Message the people you know in the worst affected areas, including a girl you met just a week ago in Tuxtla airport on your way home from Chiapas. Minorly panic when you don’t hear back and then rationalise it by telling yourself they probably have More Important Shit to do. Hopefully.
  4. Finally go to sleep. Bonus points if you do so while cradling your laptop, with your bedroom door open and your lights turned on. Just in case.
  5. Get woken up by binmen getting back to their daily grind. Write Anxious Girl’s Guide to Earthquake Etiquette that will inevitably make people mad and provoke accusations of Not Taking Things Seriously. Make plans to include super serious ‘what to do in the event of a Mexico City earthquake’ guide at the end of the post. And remind people that donations are what can help the most right now. Click the link on the tweet below to donate to the Mexican Red Cross or use the PayPal button in my sidebar. I’ll use donations to buy supplies and food for those affected, before donating to a collection centre.

Related Post: A Quick + Dirty Insider Guide to the Best Neighbourhoods in Mexico City


THE SUPER SERIOUS GIRL’S GUIDE TO EARTHQUAKE ETIQUETTE

In the event of loss of funny bone, please refer to this super serious guide to earthquake etiquette instead. No but seriously, this is the (basic, but by no means exhaustive) information you need if you get caught in a Mexico City earthquake, from what to do, where to go and what to take with you. This is just my advice and should not be taken as a standalone guide though – do further research if you’re worried about an earthquake striking while in Mexico City.

Before an Earthquake

  1. Have a plan. Know how to get out of your building, know where the earthquake safe spots (if any) are in your building and have a bag prepared with anything you need to make a speedy exit. Having a plan includes knowing what to expect in an earthquake too, more information on which you can find on this very useful Canadian website (thanks, Canada).

During an Earthquake

  1. Don’t panic. It sounds obvious and you probably will anyway, but try to think clearly and grab everything you need. This should include your pre-prepared earthquake grab bag (see below for a full list of what that should include), as well as warm shoes, a coat and your keys.
  2. If you’re inside and your building has an earthquake safe zone, position yourself there. The best place to be when inside in an earthquake is against a solid wall, away from windows and anything that has the potential to fall, or under a table. You should always cover your head and neck. Alternatively, this post suggests that assuming the foetal position is far safer, as is hunkering next to softer, bulky items, such as sofas and beds. Do your research.
  3. If your building doesn’t have an earthquake safe zone, evacuate. As with school fire drills, don’t rush, just move quickly and calmly to the nearest exit. Take your phone, pets, and kids with you, in that order. I’m just kidding. You should definitely prioritise your pets.
  4. Congregate away from potential falling debris. This means away from your building, not in the doorway and definitely not in the lobby. Preferably close to buildings with fewer floors and no balconies. Be wary of trees and telephone poles too.
  5. If you’re already outside, follow the above advice. Alternatively, if you’re in a car, pull over away from anything that may collapse (i.e. bridges and underpasses). Don’t get out of the car right away.

After an Earthquake

  1. Prepare for aftershocks. These can sometimes be stronger than the original earthquake, but not often.
  2. Return to your house but only if it avoided structural damage. Check for the appearance of any new cracks or problems and leave if you notice any. Report it to the authorities.
  3. Don’t turn on the gas straight away. There may have been damage to the pipes and you could have a gas leak. Similarly, consider unplugging your electricals if the power went out, in case there are energy surges when it starts back up again.

What to Include in an Earthquake Grab Bag

Here’s a basic list of items you should have prepared in case an earthquake hits: drinking water, dry foods that won’t go off, torch, first aid kit, anything prescription or niche to your needs (medication, baby supplies, dog food, etc.), keys to car and house if applicable, cash and travel documents.

I would add to that list: toilet paper, spare chargers, a portable battery pack and spare socks and pants, plus a jumper if possible.

Emergency Numbers in Mexico

In Mexico, the emergency number is 911.

Further Reading

As suggested by the Gov.uk Foreign Travel Advice page, this is the recommended website you should check if you want to know what to do in the event of an earthquake in Mexico.

This is recommended reading in the event that the earthquake prompts tsunamis.


18 comments

  1. Shari 9 September, 2017 at 01:24 Reply

    Omg dying here lol. But seriously, glad you’re okay! I’m still a relatively new California transplant and think about earthquakes and how I should prepare for them. So far I’ve done nothing. Better change that!

    • Lauren 9 September, 2017 at 05:20 Reply

      Yep, even though it sounds silly, I honestly think that packing a bag is a GREAT idea. I’m a total convert to the idea.

  2. Vicki 9 September, 2017 at 05:30 Reply

    I’m happy you are fine, first of all. I love your post (was expecting something really serious and was positively surprised.) It’s funny how awkward we sometimes act in such situations and afterwards it’s like “why did I do that?” I experienced my first earthquake in Japan this June. But it was just really small and I was in bed like “that must be a huge truck driving by making the whole room shake” and went back to sleep. Just heard the next morning that it actually was an earthquake. 🙂
    Take care!

    • Lauren 9 September, 2017 at 18:45 Reply

      Thank you! Yeah, I’m a pretty awkward person anyway, so it was interesting to see my reaction under pressure haha. The funny thing is, I live right on a huge main road in Mexico so trucks DO make my bed shake. It was such a different feeling from just shakiness though during the actual earthquake. Super bizarre.

  3. Missy 9 September, 2017 at 06:54 Reply

    It always seems like these things only happen when you’re not involved. It is crazy to think that this stuff happens all the time, so I appreciate this funny (and informative) take on emergency situations!

  4. Cristina 9 September, 2017 at 09:23 Reply

    Lol! You really managed to make something funny out of a terrible situation!
    It must’ve been so weird to experience this, I’m happy you’re alright!
    I left EXACTLY one month before the earthquake… I guess I got lucky cuz I spent most of my time in Chiapas and Oaxaca.
    So sad to see all of this on the news… the people there really don’t deserve this…

    • Lauren 9 September, 2017 at 18:43 Reply

      I know 🙁 I was only in Chiapas a week ago, so that was pretty scary to think about. It was a seriously weird experience in Mexico City though.

  5. Brooke Abel 9 September, 2017 at 19:09 Reply

    This is actually super helpful (love the humor too!) as I live in Southern California so you never know what can happen! I’m sorry you had to go through that, but glad it makes for a great story!

  6. Kaitlin 9 September, 2017 at 21:55 Reply

    Great article! I live in Houston and since Harvey just hit our city, I found myself relating quite a bit to your “not so serious guide” haha. But most of my steps would have been “Get up from desk, go check water level. Repeat 12x. Go to bed. Develop a case of anxiety hiccups. Get out of bed, go check water level. Repeat until rain stops AKA after 4 days.”

    Glad you’re safe! Earthquakes are scary business!

    • Lauren 9 September, 2017 at 22:59 Reply

      Oh man, I hope you’re OK after Harvey. Did it hit your area of Houston really bad? Or was the whole city badly affected? (Anxiety hiccoughs are definitely something I get too btw lol)

  7. Lora by Lora 10 September, 2017 at 01:02 Reply

    I enjoyed reading this. Had a good laugh while at it. Great tips though and very useful especially for people like me who live in earthquake prone countries {Philippines} we have them every other day.
    Thanks for sharing.

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