Another Dominican Moment…

On September 22, 2003 at 11:45 pm a 6.5 earthquake rocked the coastal town of Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic.  The epicenter of the earthquake was 10 km from Puerto Plata’s city center, but was felt as far away as Santiago, an hour’s drive away.


I went to sleep at 10:30 that night after working all day in the sun.  All three dogs were sleeping with me on my king-sized bed like always, and periodically throughout the night they would itch and scratch, vibrating the bed.  Usually a snap of my fingers subsided the scratching.  I woke up irritated to what I though were itching dogs.  I’m not the most patient person when woken up in the middle of the night.


I snap my fingers, they stop, then start up again a few minutes later.  I snap again, but don’t get the response I’m hoping for.  I yell at them, but the shaking doesn’t stop.  I sit up and yell again, this time with my eyes open.  The dogs raise their heads and look at me, but the shaking is still going on.


A sudden violent shaking of the bed and I heard things sliding across the floor, windows rattled, and the building groaned.


I screamed and the vibrations subsided long enough for me to jump out of bed smack into the closet door.  I fumbled for the light switch, but it wasn’t working.  I felt my way toward the sliding glass door in my room and threw open the curtains.  It’s pitch black outside, no lights at all.  I didn’t have my contacts in, so the darkness was even more magnified in my mind.


I followed the shape of the bed to what I thought was the doorway and hit another closet.


I found the doorway to the living room and crossed the huge expanse to the front door without any guide of furniture.  I am terrified of my apartment building crumbling with the dogs and me in it and just praying that we make it outside safely. Another tremor has me staggering across the floor.  I think I’m walking straight, but ended up on the other side of the TV, a good 10 feet from the front door.  All the furniture had shifted to the right. I followed the furniture back to the left and found the front door. 


Another big tremor hit as I run down the stairs with the dogs, who were all excited about going outside for a pee at such an unusual hour.   Other people were on the street.  One woman lived in South America during the May 31, 1970 earthquake in Peru that killed 66,000 of people and she is completely hysterical.


The dogs laid down on the grass lazily.  They weren’t stressed at all.  I didn’t have time to think of grabbing any necessities like my contacts or their leashes.  I really didn’t know what to do.  The electricity was out in my building and I lived on the second floor.  I couldn’t go back into my apartment for anything because the dogs would follow me.


I walked down to Philip and Michelle’s house at the end of the street.  I didn’t feel safe anywhere, but I felt better near friends.  They had a huge crack across their ceiling, but they did have sporadic electricity.  I spent the night at their house while many minor tremors continued throughout the night. 


The next day I surveyed the damage.  There was a crack around the entire pool at my apartment complex.  My apartment furniture had shifted drastically.  All the living room furniture was against the sliding glass door wall a good six feet from where it originally sat.  Picture frames and kitchen pans were on the floor.  The bed in the bedroom was turned 45 degrees.  In town a few buildings were demolished, other buildings only had collapsed roofs.  A night club my friend had gone to had all the mirrors fall off the walls and shatter.  Some of the resort homes had their towers crumble.  One of my training staff had everything in her house broken.  The road to Santiago through the mountains had fallen and started a landslide.  Tremors continued for the rest of the week causing mass fear and many people slept outside their houses for fear of being crushed beneath rubble.


During all this, I kept thinking how animals seem to “know” when things are going to happen, but I wonder if by domesticating dogs, some have lost their ability to detect natural functions of the world, or maybe it’s just my dogs.  They never woke up or even stirred for any tremor.  They didn’t seem bothered by any of it at all.  It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but the next night, I trusted the dogs and went back to sleep.