There was a strong earthquake centered off the coast of Guatemala on November 7, and it was felt all over southern Mexico.
Sismos, quakes, normally don't merit front-page headlines in Yucatán, which is not known for seismic activity, but this one was felt in Mérida. I didn't notice it, but the newspaper reported the next day that the quake had been felt in the upper levels of some multi-story buildings in the north part of the city.
Various friends of mine in Mexico and Oaxaca states, closer to the epicenter, commented about the quake on Facebook. I called one friend in Oaxaca who reported that while startling, the quake seemed to have caused no damage in her area.
Since that time several more strong quakes have been felt in Mexico. All of this recent activity brought back to me a cascade of earthquake memories. All through my years in Alaska, quakes and smaller earth tremors were a normal occurrence. I also felt quakes as a teen in Colombia and later on visits to California. But fortunately the only loss we ever experienced from quakes was a few dishes and decorative bottles of Mom's that fell in the kitchen during a Fairbanks quake in 1967.
When the 1985 quake hit Mexico City I was in Israel, picking bananas on a farm in the Western Galilee. Several of my co-workers were Mexicans. What I recall vividly is how frantically they followed the news, and how one of them tried, for days before achieving success, to get word of her family. Now, interestingly, I know several chilango families who moved from Mexico City to Mérida in the aftermath of that event.
In August 2002, as I was searching for a home in Mexico, I visited the city of Colima, just a bit inland from Manzanillo on the Pacific Coast. I was enchanted by the area and its mountains, Colima's proximity to the coast, and interesting old houses in the city center. I looked at several that were for sale. Then a few months later back home in Alaska, I tuned in radio news one morning to learn that a massive quake had shaken the area. When I had time to watch video and see photos of the damage, I saw that some of the very streets and buildings that I'd looked at were now rubble. As a result, Colima moved quite a few notches down my list of possible Mexican hometowns.
I really like old Mexican architecture, but one of its problems is that although the stone, brick or adobe buildings with their thick walls are stout, they can be extremely fragile in quakes because they are heavy and built without reinforcing steel of any kind. Yucatán is not known for earthquakes, and Mérida has more intact colonial buildings than any city in the country outside of Mexico City itself. That so many of these very old, un-reinforced buildings are still standing was to me a good sign that Yucatán is a fairly earthquake-safe zone. A year after visiting Colima and eight months after the Colima earthquake of 2003, I bought my house in Mérida.
However, earthquakes do originate on the Yucatán Peninsula, according to an interesting news item published in El Diario de Yucatán a few days after the recent tremors in Mérida. The article relates that the most notable in recent times was a quake of magnitude 4.2 on the Richter scale, centered in Quintana Roo in 2010. This shaker was strongly felt in Ticul, little more than an hour's drive from Mérida.
The article quotes an investigator in the Dept. of Seismology at the Universidad National Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM) in Mérida as saying that little is known about what seismic faults exist in the Peninsula, and for this reason temblors in the Yucatán are little understood. He urges additional research into the matter, stating, "We need to further investigate the active faults, to see if they are large or small, and to find out if a disastrous earthquake could occur in the Peninsula."
Mérida and the Yucatán's population is growing rapidly. We have lots of old buildings here, and new construction often is not built with earthquakes in mind. This suggestion sounds like a good idea.