Photo Friday: Earthquake Pancake

Posted by Ted on Oct 21, 2011 in Events, Memories, Photography

San Francisco shook twice yesterday, and it wasn’t from a Giants game.

Almost 22 years to the day after the Loma Prieta earthquake rattled the Bay Area during the 1989 World Series, two quakes occurred yesterday along the Hayward Fault, with epicenters several miles below the UC Berkeley campus. At 2:41p, I felt the first one (4.0) from our lab in the SoMa district of San Francisco – a rumble that jiggled parked cars on the street. At 8:16p, I felt the second one (3.8) from our much closer second story apartment in Oakland and did a mental double-take as I truly felt the house shake for a moment. Of course, Facebook and Twitter had a flurry of status updates as people all across the Bay Area shared their experiences.

When my wife and I moved here from Boston three years ago, we traded snow for earthquakes. I personally don’t mind these relatively small earthquakes, in that by relieving fault pressure they delay “The Big One“. Even when that one hits, I have some faith that it may not be as bad as what I saw in Haiti last year.

The second floor becomes the first - Jacmel, Haiti (March 2010)

Here you can see a bit of earthquake physics you might not have realized – that on multi-story buildings, it is actually safer to be higher up. Notice that the first floor has been completely crushed and the third floor is comparatively unscathed. My faith that California will weather a large earthquake better is due primarily to the three following things that Haiti does not have;

  1. Higher quality building materials – What I saw in Haiti was cement that crumbled to the touch and woefully thin rebar
  2. Better building techniques – California in particular practices seismic design principles
  3. Adherence to building codes – Perhaps most important, for without this the other two become meaningless

This is not to say that Californians should be complacent, but our awareness and continued engineering advances should give us a decent chance of avoiding the devastation that I saw in Haiti.

(Related pictures of Haiti 2010 can be found here.)

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Images of Haiti

Posted by Ted on Apr 24, 2010 in Photography, Travel

I’ve been home from Haiti for five weeks. Their rainy season started the day after I left, and there is still so much more work to be done.



Due to my short two week stay and my long two day return, it didn’t take much time to readjust to our typical life in the Bay Area. My wife surprised me with a few days at a hot-spring resort, we got to enjoy playing tourist when her mom came to visit, the next school quarter started, and the job search continued. Life returned to normal.

However, I have not forgotten Haiti. I have been actively following the #Jacmel twitter stream, and I am working with Burners Without Borders to put together an awareness-raising slideshow presentation here in San Francisco. I have been approached by several people wanting to talk about volunteering, and about setting up a ‘Bikes-for-Haiti’ project. I’ve assisted the next batch of volunteers going to help Shelters International in finding their way and knowing what to expect. My contribution to her recovery by my own two hands was miniscule, but my hope is that my voice may continue to draw attention to Haiti’s need for help. As a travel writer and photographer, sharing the world through storytelling is what I do best.

As I look back on the experience, there are a few things that particularly stand out for me;
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Haiti – A map of Jacmel

Posted by Ted on Apr 5, 2010 in Causes, Technology, Travel

Last night I discovered that Google Maps updated its satellite data of Haiti after the earthquake, including Jacmel where I worked for two weeks, clearing rubble from two schools. This map will serve to complete the travelogue, along with the posts here and the photo gallery.  Clicking on the map should take you to the interactive map which will allow you to zoom in for more detail.

A map of Jacmel, showing some of the places I visited

A map of Jacmel, showing some of the places I visited

It is my hope that it will not only give geographical context to my writings and images, but that it may help future relief workers bound for Jacmel get their bearings. If you are in or recently returned from Jacmel, and would like to add data to this map, please let me know.

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Haiti – An epilogue

Posted by Ted on Mar 20, 2010 in Causes, Travel

During my 57 hour trip home from Jacmel, via U.N. transport, moto-taxis, three planes, BART, and my own two feet, with an overnight in Port-au-Prince and Los Angeles, my thoughts raced, processing the last two weeks.

Especially today, after two nights sleep in real beds, truly alone for the first time in two weeks, I found that I have come away with more questions than answers. Listening to “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley in the hostel near LAX, I wondered what will become of Haiti. There is still so much work to be done, and yet, there is also a sense that the emergency is over, and relief organizations will focus their time and money on the next disaster, leaving the country to fend for itself without the infrastructure to support it.

Already, Haiti seems far away and long ago. Two weeks is not enough time to become so accustomed to a place that home doesn’t feel like home. I flip through the photos on my camera, and they are at once familiar and strange. While stopped at the Daly City BART station, I looked out the window and saw houses in one piece, wondering where the rubble was. I thought about “the Big One” that will happen sometime, maybe even sooner than later what with all of the earthquakes in the first three months of the year – Haiti, Chile, Taiwan, and Cuba just today. Mother Earth is restless. When it’s our turn, will our buildings fare better? One hopes.

At West Oakland, I looked out to the port, the container loaders lined up, ready to transfer cargo to and from ships, a pit-stop on the road of commerce. There were thousands of containers, probably empty, stacked high and wide, and I wished that some of the wasted relief money could go towards sending them to Haiti, and converting them into housing that would survive the coming rainy and hurricane seasons. How much would it cost to buy, ship, distribute, and convert these useful castoffs of consumerism?

Before Fruitvale I looked at the passengers on the train as we passed the local Goodwill distribution center, wondering how long it would be until their tshirts, emblazoned with American pop culture, would end up discarded, donated, and shipped off to third world countries like Haiti, only to end up in the markets for meager profit.

As I walked home, I felt uneasy, noting that the streets were too clean, without moto-taxis and colorful tap-taps communicating with each other through their horns. Buildings were standing and there were no tents or rubble to navigate past. Now in the comfort of home, a weariness sets in as I wait for my love to come home, looking forward to being quiet, and holding each other, thankful for our privileged lives.

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Haiti – Days 13 & 14

Posted by Ted on Mar 18, 2010 in Causes, Travel

The last two days have been about saying goodbye – to Jacmel, to SIDR, to Haiti.

Instead of working onsite yesterday, I walked around Jacmel. I went to the market with Bill, bustling with activity which had been utterly quiet on Sunday. The cobbled streets were lined with vendors, and between them people, moto-taxis, and trucks jostled for position. Then I set off on my own, catching a ride with ‘Black’, a gentleman who I kept running into for a week, who took me to an artist gallery that he represents. I saw a painting I liked, but not for $80. I then walked through Zone 2, the hardest hit of the city. I saw more destruction than I’d seen anywhere else, but was heartened by the number of crews I saw who were working to clear rubble. I met an artist named Isidor whose workshop collapsed, his art still under the collapsed roof. I met four sisters who are living in tents in the street, looking for work. I took their names and numbers to give to SIDR. I ended up at the river, and walked along it to the bay. Along the way I passed a backhoe ambling along like some big yellow giraffe, both out of place and yet joining the dogs, goats, and cattle also roaming the shoreline. I took my sandals off when I got to the beach and walked through the surf. Turning inland again, I passed the grade school that we’d worked on when I first arrived. Feeling I had said goodbye to Jacmel, I hopped on a moto-taxi back to camp.

A few of the guys decided that a trip to the beach would be a proper send-off, so we took a tap-tap up to the party beach. It was much less crowded than Sunday which was kind of nice. I frolicked in the waves and then watched the guys play in a soccer match. An orange sun set behind palm trees, and then I joined the guys in the water again before we left the beach in darkness, a crescent moon replacing the sun.

This morning started earlier than usual so that I could pack up. For the first time ever, I leave with less than I arrived with – my tent, sleeping pad, and sandals being further donations to SIDR. As it rains tonight, I am comforted to know that Cherilus, my friend and camp cook, now has his own home away from home. Both items cost about $100, and would have gone right into storage when I got home. Now I now that they will be used every night, providing a home to someone who busts his ass cooking in the morning, and shoveling rubble in the afternoon.

Then my ride arrived – a white SUV, marked U.N. Police. I caught a lift with Laura who was heading back to Canada to see a friend who had a stroke and is in a coma. Our driver was a Columbian officer, and we listened to Tito Puente as we twisted thru the lush hills between Jacmel and Leogane. When we finally arrived at the Minustah base in P-au-P, I felt like an interloper, surrounded by military personnel from Chile, Uruguay, Japan, Yemen, and India. I finally took my leave of Laura and the U.N., and hopped on a moto-taxi to my hotel, Auberge du Quebec in Carrefour, a district farther away from the airport than I’d like. The trip was interesting tho, as we wound through traffic for half an hour, a motorcycle being the perfect vehicle for negotiating past trucks and over rough roads.

Finally at the hotel, my culture shock continued as I was surrounded by more blancas than I’d seen in two weeks. Suddenly I felt very removed from the Haiti that I’d come to know. It was too clean, the bar has color-cycling LED lights, and the security guards have shotguns. I took a shower, a dip in the pool, and enjoyed the quiet luxury of reading a book while sipping Barbancourt and Coke. I had an early dinner of tender Lamby, and then decided to leave my comfortable hotel and walk the streets. Ostensibly I was scoping out where to try to catch my morning transport, but really it was to get back to something more familiar. I didn’t have far to walk until I was once again among street vendors, colorful tap-taps, and streets overrun with trash and overflowing water.

An old grey-haired man approached me who spoke very good English and asked me where I was from. We struck up a conversation, and Mathieu told me he was an artist who also used to be a boxer and a timeshare salesman. His sister died in the earthquake. He took me to see some of his family, and I got to meet his albino neice, as well as a cousin living next door, living under a tarp anchored to a wall. We walked back down the street towards my hotel, and when he asked for money, I gave him a couple of American dollars. Whether it had all been a beggars ploy I don’t know, but it was a small sum in life’s grand scheme, and worth the experience.

Now back at the poolside cabana bar, I listen to a pouring rain. Soon I will go to bed on a real mattress, underneath a celing fan, and I won’t need earplugs to block the sound of dogs, goats, and roosters. I look forward to continuing my long trip home tomorrow, ever closer to the waiting arms of my one true love.

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