It was pitch black when I woke up. I sat bolt upright in bed and it took me a half-second to realise something was wrong. My quiet, tropical paradise sounded like a freight train was going through it. and the bed felt like four large muscular men had broken in and each had a corner and were shaking it violently…
‘What the..? ah… earthquake… so this is what it feels like?….OK, I’d like it to stop now… just… stop… STOP!’ was my thought process. It must have lasted about 30-40 long seconds then silence. I was slightly surprised to be awake. I’ve lived through a 4.9 magnitude earthquake before, with windows rattling and pictures banding against the wall, but much to everyone else’s surprise, slept blissfully through it. A true traveller, I can sleep in most places and through most things.
It was about 2am Honduran time on 28th May 2009 and I was staying on the beautiful tropical island of Roatan. I was a few days in to a three week vacation come field trip for my Masters degree (I know… good dissertation choice right?!). The details unravelled later the next day; but this was the middle of the night and I was alone. All the lights had gone out so I went to where I’d left my torch. I turned it on, relieved to find it, but it feebly flickered a couple of times and died. ‘You choose NOW to run out of battery?’, I thought. I vaguely remembered a candle and some matches on the shelf above the kitchen units in my studio room. I fumbled around in the pitch black and found them, hastily lighting the candle. I took a look around the room, everything seemed normal, no big cracks in the walls and nothing fallen as far as I could see.
What does one do in the event of an earthquake? I was sleepy, and not really thinking clearly but I stuck my head out of the door. The lady on the end of the row of rooms, who lived on the island, was lighting up and having a chat with the owner of the property. My candle flickered in the wind and threatened to blow out, and my nightie threatened to blow up. I retreated to my room, checking the whole area more closely. All OK. At the same time I noticed someone outside checking the building with a flashlight. At this time my terribly English streak kicked in. No, I didn’t make a cup of tea, but not wanting to be alarmist I settled down to go back to sleep, and sleep I did.
In the cool light of day this might seem like a silly thing to do, there was a tsunami watch issued which I wasn’t aware of, and Roatan was the nearest land to the earthquake, but my sleep fuddled brain knew no better and I slept well until morning and was fortunate enough to get away with it.
In the morning nothing seemed out of place and, as I ventured out for breakfast, wondering what I might find outside the confines of my guest house, nothing was. I was prepared for damage as I walked through West End – the quirky diving centre of Roatan. There was none to be seen. Puzzled, I asked around. The earthquake had indeed been a very strong one. It registered 7.1 magnitude and had occurred about 40 miles northeast of the Roatan coastline at a relatively shallow depth of 6.2 miles. The theory was, that on the island the buildings were largely made of timber, which flexed when the ground shook. The story on the mainland wasn’t so fortunate and in Honduras itself there were 6 deaths and many injured, with bridges and homes damaged. Even though it was the “wrong sort of earthquake” to cause a tsunami, the aftershocks were to go on for a number of weeks afterwards as the fault line settled back down.
Life on Roatan picked up the next day and went on as normal but my nerves were jangling. The best solution in these circumstances? Go diving. I headed up to the dive shop I usually used and booked to go out on the mid-morning dive. As I dropped beneath the surface my mind stopped worrying and started to concentrate on the dive. As if mother earth wanted to give me just one more reminder of the events the previous night we heard a noise which sounded like a sonic booming underwater – aftershock! That’s one dive log entry which is a little bit different!
During my time on Roatan I stayed at the Casa del Sol guesthouse in West End. Friendly, clean and quiet, whilst being only 2 minutes walk from the popular traveller and diver hub of Roatan’s West End.