The Ceres Earthquake: Wellington, South Africa

Wellington, South Africa, September 29, 1969

The Ceres Earthquake

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8270787@N07/6040711387/

September 29, 1969: Ten-thirty p.m. I shut my textbook with a loud snap and sighed. Tomorrow I’d take one of my last tests for graduation. English. I felt confident. I had studied hard. I stared at the blue textbook sitting alongside my notepad but didn’t open it. Yes. Algebra. I wrapped my bathrobe tightly around me to ward off the chilly night and puttered down the hall to the bathroom to brush my teeth.

I was washing my hands when a distant rumble caught my attention. A train? But no trains ran through the area. The lights went out, and the rumble grew louder. I spun, ready to make for the door, but suddenly the room shook so violently that I couldn’t reach it. Then I was thrown against the tub. Holding on to the towel rack for support, I finally made my way to the bathroom door, opened it, and tripped on the threshold, landing hard on the hallway floor. “Earthquake,” my father shouted. By then, I had come to the same conclusion. I jumped up and ran for the kitchen, where my parents and brothers had already gathered. We made a hasty exit out the back door, afraid the house might collapse.

Outside, we watched in astonishment as the ground shifted and a three-inch crack appeared in our driveway. This corroborated my brothers’ stories of the floors in their bedrooms feeling hot beneath their feet when they leaped out of their beds to flee from the rooms. Later we discovered the linoleum flooring in some parts of the house had melted.

Centered in the Ceres area, the 6.3-magnitude earthquake was the most destructive in South African history, damaging even well-constructed brick homes and cracking nearly all of the roads in the area. Fortunately, our rental home suffered minimal damage.

Numerous aftershocks shook Ceres and the surrounding towns, the most severe of which was a 5.7 on the Richter scale. However, when another serious tremor struck on April 14, 1970, we no longer lived in Wellington but had moved to Puerto Rico, where Dad had been assigned to a new job. Ceres was my second earthquake, (the first was in Mexico City), but there would be more to come, all of them occurring when I moved back to the States.

With sadness, we packed up to leave Wellington for the US. We had grown fond of the country we had lived in for just shy of a year and could have stayed there, quite happily, for many years to come. Because our return flight from South Africa to the US routed through Europe, Dad decided we should take a short vacation.

Next week: “Italy and Spain.”

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