Friday

Belize Survivor, part 66

Alexis was dreaming. She was out on the ocean in a sailboat. A gale force wind came out of nowhere and the boat began to rock. In a split second she was shocked back to reality, awake and trying to focus on what was happening. Where am I? Oh yeah, I'm in the house on the river, in Belize with Max and Jordan. Why is the house shaking? The cows, she thought. That big Brahma stud bull must have gotten into the yard and he's rubbing on the stilts. But then she remembered the cement blocks between the posts. It would take an elephant to shake the whole house like that.

"Earthquake!" cried Alexis. "Max, it's an earthquake!" The whole house trembled as Max was shocked from sound-asleep to wide-awake.

"Earthquake?" he said. "Geez, it's an earthquake!"

"It can't be an earthquake,” Alexis shouted, illogically. “We've only been in Central America for two weeks!"

Two jars in the kitchen fell off the shelves and crashed to the floor. Alexis screamed, jumping out of bed and grabbing Jordan. The noise became deafening. Outside they could hear the land reverberating and groaning as shock waves rolled across the river valley. The wooden planks in the house creaked as though the whole structure were trying to tear free of the heavy beams that rooted it in place. With only one flashlight and no electricity, the experience was even more frightening. Sensing his parents' fear, little nine-month-old Jordan screamed and cried.

"What do we do?" Alexis shouted above the din. "Should we get out of the house?"

"I don't know," Max shouted back. "Both staircases are really steep, and they’re wet; it’s been raining. We could slip and break our necks, or the stairs could tear apart while we're on them. But if we stay in here and these main timbers give..."

The quaking built to a crescendo as the geologic plates shifted and settled. Panic stricken, Max and Alexis dodged back and forth from one side of the house to the other with the baby, not knowing whether it was safer inside or outside – whether to wait or abandon the house. After more than three minutes of mind-numbing fear, the quaking subsided

"Good morning, Belize. This is Radio Belize, the voice of the Caribbean, la voce de la amistad, the voice of friendship,” said the gregarious DJ. “And how are all of you this morning in this beautiful little jewel of ours?" Max turned up the volume of the radio in anticipation. "So all of you in the western Cayo District had quite a jolt last night, no true? Well, we in Belize City felt only a jiggle. But it has been reported that there has been some minor damage in San Ignacio Town and Benque Viejo del Carmen on the western border. The real news this morning is in neighboring Guatemala. The epicenter of the earthquake was located just east of the Guatemala City and measured at 7.6 on the Richter scale. The quake occurred at 3:44 a.m. and lasted just over three minutes. Reports of major damage are starting to come in from Guatemala City. First estimates are that perhaps twenty thousand people are dead, and it is suspected that thousands more still lie buried alive in the rubble. Many churches and other buildings of historical importance were destroyed or severely damaged. We'll have more news on this breaking story as it becomes available. In other news this morning..."

Alexis put Jordan into the hammock crosswise, the way Mrs. Whitmore had shown her, and put the cut-off piece of broomstick in place, wrapping both ends in the material to hold it in the open position. Jordan loved it, falling asleep much faster than a cradle or rocking chair. Then she picked up the whisk broom and began to sweep where the jars had fallen, just in case there were still minute broken shards. Max sat on the windowsill drinking his morning tea. He looked out over the pasture and noticed that, miraculously, only a few trees had fallen. Like the house, timber seemed to have tremendous resilience.

Just at that moment another hard tremor began. Alexis' eyes opened wide. In one glance she and Max exchanged a thousand words. The aftershock lasted perhaps ten seconds.

"Is it over?" asked Alexis cautiously. He didn’t reply. “Max?" she said hesitantly.

"Yeah?"

"If we'd gone south at Acayucan instead of east to Belize, we would have been in Guatemala City right now. Right at the heart of the quake."