You may be wondering what “Mariners” like ourselves are doing talking about earthquakes as we are supposed to be at sea and not on land. Well, part of our life is on the boat, but when we are moored up in safe harbours, we have the opportunity to travel and see the world around us - and this is actually part of the objectives of our lifestyle choice. We want to explore the amazing world that is around us.
On this occasion, we were contemplating how to avoid the onslaught of the North Atlantic storms in Brest where one storm and rainy day was followed by another storm and another rainy day, it seemed without end at this time of year. As it was Christmas time, we thought to fly onto Croatia as it is on the same continent and only 12 degrees in longitude to the west of us. The idea was to visit No. 1 son, Jonathan, who we have not seen for over a year.
We therefore booked a great Air B&B in the centre of Zagreb - on the 5th floor of an old building as it happens and overlooking the central square. Due to Covid-19, there was quite some choice in this locked down capital and so we hoped that we made the best choice.
On arrival we noticed that the walls had “interesting” sections of removed plaster, in a quite irregular design and exposing brickwork below. We thought it was quite quaint and arty, until we later learnt that this was the result of an earthquake in Zagreb 9 months earlier, which registered 5.3 on the Richter scale and had its epicentre 7 kilometres north of the city.
Being a geologist, all this kind of seismic activity is quite fascinating to me; with the compression of the Eurasian Plate by the northerly movement of the African Plate – that result in the current creation of the alps and other mountain chains. The earthquakes resulting from the slip of the earth along major fault lines in the crust. Oh well, we were 9 months late for experiencing this event, better luck next time.
Just after Christmas Day we had drinks with our friend Sandra, who brought us a fantastic selection of home made Croatian Christmas Cakes (very similar to the ones my mum used to make). She told us actually how terrifying the recent March earthquake in Zagreb really was; with much damage occurring and a sequence of after-shocks. The problem with pre-shocks/after shocks is that at the time, you don’t know if the major even has actually occurred or this is the build-up to a bigger earthquake or the settling down after the major event. You can only see this with hind sight so a more serious quake could potentially occur at any time, without warning.
The next morning, about 6.30 we were lying in bed. You can feel the rumble of the trams as they go by, but when the bed starts to rock and the cupboards rattle there are clearly greater forces acting than a tram passing by. This first quake had a magnitude of 5.3, but it occurred 50 km away and so the severity in Zagreb was not very great. It was for us a nice first earthquake experience with no damage and no worries for the earthquake virgins of this world.
An hour later we had another such seismic event, but this was a safe 4.8 and also 50 km away.
This great early morning experience of shaking beds and private jokes to the effect of earth movement was a lot of fun for us.
Sandra, on the other hand, with the experience from earlier in the year was seriously worried as it reminded her of what had so recently happened and what could happen in this region. There continued to be many small quakes during the next days, but all from 2.2 to 3.5 on the Richter scale and hard for us to feel from 50 km away. Two days after our de-flowering, we were in our apartment, on the 5th floor, and on the video with Geoff and Gay from Ronda in Spain when a significantly stronger earthquake struck. This registered 6.5 on the Richter scale and was also from 50 km away from Zagreb. It was like a rumbling tram at first, but the rumbling sound rolled and intensified and it grew to a sound like a slamming of a door. The building began to shake so it felt like we were rocking on the boat - except we were on dry land (but not terra firma at that specific moment) and it was almost impossible to stand up. The lights were swinging, doors and windows opened and outside I could see the dust filling the air as parts of buildings broke off and hit the ground.
This experience was suddenly less comfortable than a gentle rocking of the bed ! It is difficult to say how long this went on for, but we think for maybe 30-45 seconds. After the shaking stopped, we quickly grabbed our sailors “grab bag” and headed out to the street as we were concerned that this old and already weakened building may collapse and foreign tourists become a statistic of the latest earthquake in Zagreb. Outside, everyone was in the middle of the street and main square, keeping away from any building that may drop debris on the unsuspecting person. The people all looked concerned and worried as a result of the experience earlier in the year - a real case of collective PTSD. Jonathan was heading to town to meet us, but he had to go back and get is rescuer gear ( he is a part of the Croatian Mountain and Rescue Team), in case he was needed. We hung around outside for about 1-1/2 hours until the people were beginning to re-enter the shops in the area. Fortunately, the weather was good and we had a pleasant time in the sunshine. Eventually Jonathan had to head off to support his rescue team and we gingerly re-entered our building for our delayed lunch.
Though there were no further quakes, we thought to go for a walk and get some outdoor time.
By the time we returned, the shops were all shut, the trams had stopped running and the central square was full of TV teams that were filming politicians in front of neatly arranged rows of bulldozers, cherry pickers, trucks for debris removal etc. etc. Showing the general public that the city was organized and ready for any eventuality.
Damage was actually quite minimal with only some decorative stonework, some facades and chimneys that had become lose and needed sweeping up from the streets. The epicentre was however much worse with the sad loss of 7 lives, many injuries to people and serious damage to buildings.
That same night, our last in Zagreb, there were 2 more earthquakes that we could feel. They were only the gentle rocking of the bed with creaking cupboards, but the warm cozy feeling of these events were lost and there was always the thought it may suddenly become much worse with serious consequences.
We left the following morning with 5 earthquakes added to our experience of life and probably another 20 that we did not feel.
Back on the boat, the gentle rocking that results from wind, tide and other boats passing by is a cozy comfort, like a gentle earthquake , but without and danger and risk. We have grown wiser with this interesting Christmas experience and learnt a lot about earthquakes !