2:28 p.m. Just a normal Wednesday afternoon. I was in the middle of class with my 3rd graders. We were going along like usual; I was handing out worksheets (I always hand them out myself rather than using the “take one pass one” method because my classes are small and my kids tend to take FOREVER AND A HALF to do the passing part) and thinking about how I had to go grab pens for all the kids who “forgot” to bring one.
2:29 p.m. I reached the back row of desks, and just as I handed a worksheet to the boy nearest me, he leapt up and cried “지진인가?” (Is that an earthquake?)
I heard what he said, but it didn’t register until an instant after the words left his mouth. Then we all felt it. The shaking floor, the rumbling earth far below us. It sounded strangely like when the lunch bell rings and all the students thunder down the stairs at once.
My co-teacher and I stared at each other in shock. We were all silent, frozen in place, just feeling the floor vibrate beneath us, looking at each other’s wide-eyed faces.
Thankfully it wasn’t a serious earthquake, because we didn’t even remotely follow proper earthquake protocol. We later learned it was a 5.4 magnitude, which is at the very upper edge of “minor.” The center (center? is that a thing for earthquakes or only for storms?) was on the east coast in Pohang, so Daegu didn’t get hit quite as hard. (Buildings were damaged in Pohang.)
This is only the third earthquake I’ve experienced in my life, and all of them have been in Korea (which, as a country, isn’t particularly experienced with earthquakes either). It wasn’t powerful enough to do more than shake us up a bit (pun intended).
As soon as it ended, the students started yelling and screaming. “쌤, 나가요?” (Teacher, should we go outside?) My co-teacher and I nodded as we heard similar uproar coming from other classrooms. I waited to make sure all the kids left the room, including the ones who had been rudely awakened from their mid-class nap by the drama. As I was waiting, one of my students gestured frantically to me. “Teacher, go, go! Dangerous!”
We hurriedly filed out of the classroom, down the two flights of stairs, across the hallway, and out into the soccer field to wait out the aftershocks and… just be together where we were all accounted for, I guess.
The whole school was gathering there, united not only physically but emotionally as well, with the buzzing energy of fear and adrenaline and racing hearts thick around us. The kids lined up on the basketball court by homeroom. I huddled against the chilling wind with a few of the English teachers.
We stayed out there in the sunny cold for a long time. Two aftershocks were reported, but they were too small to be felt. We shivered and chattered about how scary it was, but in a lighthearted way, laughing a little nervously, comparing stories of our first reactions. The kids were having the time of their lives, I’m sure, given that they just had their last class of the day cut short by 30 minutes. Still, I couldn’t help but think how grimly different the scene and atmosphere would be if the earthquake had been just a couple points higher.
Hopefully this will inspire a bit more earthquake preparedness training nationwide, but given that last year’s two earthquakes (one of which was a 5.8) didn’t prompt such a thing, I don’t hold out much hope.
Anyway, today I’m just thankful that we’re okay.
*Update: the third aftershock (4.6) almost two hours later was definitely strong enough to feel the vibrations.
*Update 2: I realize I’m dramatizing a relatively minor incident, but it’s definitely scarier when none of the people in the country are used to this kind of thing. What would be just another day in California or Japan, for instance, is quite an event here – and certainly more nerve-wracking because the buildings here are not designed to withstand strong earthquakes.