To Juchitán and Back: The Shocking Power of an 8.2° Earthquake

I left Thursday at 5:30 a.m., and returned home around 10:00 p.m. Friday, after driving 1,005 miles, much of that on curvy, mountain roads. What I saw on the coastal cities of Oaxaca, namely Juchitán, Tehuantepec and the smaller town of San Mateo del Mar greatly moved me.

I stopped by and picked up from Chalo at 7:00 a.m. in Puebla, then met Gaspar in Oaxaca at his ranch at around noon. By one o’clock we were on the road again, winding around rivers and Mexico’s rugged, mountainous terrain towards what is called the Istmo, or Isthmus, a region that is home to a lot of oil, and several populated cities, including the refinery city of Salina Cruz, Tehauntepec and Juchitán. I had never been to this area of Mexico before.

There have been two strong earthquakes in Mexico. The first was an 8.2° earthquake, off the coast of southern Oaxaca. The second was a 7.1° earthquake with its epicenter much closer to Mexico City, in the state of Morelos. The second quake has received much more attention because of its damage to highly populated areas (like Mexico City). The first, however, was 12.589 times bigger than the first, and released 44.668 times more energy. That’s right…the Richter scale is deceiving. Larger earthquakes are disproportionately greater…using a complicated base-10 algorithm.

So the first earthquake, with has received much less attention, was the monster. Several of us saw its affects first-hand over the last couple days. The windy road over the mountains to the coastal area had been cleared off 30-40 different places, and even on our way back on Friday, we encountered a front-end loader moving a rock fall. The buildings in the city of Juchitán, especially in certain sections, were decimated, with probably 80% of the buildings fractured and cracked beyond repair. Numbers painted on the outside mark them for demolition.

Next question…how to help? Fortunately there is a vibrant evangelical community in the area. We met with several leaders from the Baptist denomination, and were impressed with their organization and desire to help. We dropped our van-load of goods at a church that had been designated as a distribution center for quake relief.

Gaspar settled on a plan…many of the families in this area, especially in the more rural areas, use a sort of homemade oven, with a clay pot where tortillas are made, and food is cooked. We saw a number of these ovens in pieces after the earthquake. The clay pots, essential for the ovens, can be manufactured in larger ovens locally, and the base can be easily manufactured from block and a sand/dirt mixture. The oven is called a comizcal.  As we surveyed the damaged, it seems like helping to provide replacements for the many damaged beyond repair comizcales would be a significant and strategic help to many families affected by the initial earthquake, and the ongoing aftershocks. Our initial goal is to replace 500 of these ovens, at about $30 per oven. Would you like to give? One way is through Dave Miller’s Adventures in Life Ministry’s earthquake fund. You can go to the website by clicking HERE. Camino Global is also channeling funds to Mexico relief. Check out their website HERE. Make sure to specify Mexico as your funds destination.

The map above helps understand a bit of the geographical nature of this region. The epicenter of the earthquake was actually offshore, in the ocean. The earthquake knocked down buildings, but there was also a largely unreported storm surge…a tsunami. The wave covered a large part of the isthmus where San Mateo del Mar and Santa Maria del Mar are located. To this day, over a month later, some of the houses closest to the ocean side are still partially under water (see video at end of post). A Mexican Marine helicopter landed while we were visiting San Mateo del Mar, distributing food stuffs. An ethic group, the Huaves, inhabit this isthmus. The women are known for their long, red dresses.

Below, a few more pictures of our adventure, and a short video of the house of a member of a Baptist church, whose home is underwater. He sent his wife and kids to a family member’s home, but he sleeps on an elevated platform for concrete block.

Please continue to keep this region of Mexico in your prayers, as ongoing relief work goes hand in hand with the sharing of the good news of Jesus.


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