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Colombia: Bogus Earthquake Alarm in Bogotá

After Peru’s earthquake, and every time a quake happens near Colombia, Bogotans remember once again that they should be prepared for this kind of disasters, but they often do not. Around noon on Tuesday, August 28, someone who had nothing better to do called several companies and government offices, pretending to be an engineer of Ingeominas (Colombia’s geological institute), and told them that an earthquake was going to take place in the city around 5 PM. The emergency hotlines, as well as the National Seismologic Network phone lines, collapsed. The rumour had been around for several days ago. Even though most people with some education -or with some kind of common sense- know that earthquakes can’t be predicted (so far, of course), some buildings, specially downtown, started to be evacuated, and panic started. As you can see in this video, a surveillance worker for a military hospital told Caracol TV: “the order was to evacuate the [normal] people, not the patients”.

Nevertheless, the fear a big earthquake will strike Bogotá someday is by no means groundless. As Víctor Solano reminds us [ES] :

Toda Bogotá se encuentra ubicada en zona de amenaza sísmica intermedia. (…) el impacto de un terremoto en Bogotá sería monstruoso debido a que las normas de arquitectura sismorresistente se adoptaron muy tarde y por eso cerca del 80 por ciento de las construcciones podrían colapsar estruendosamente.

The entire city of Bogotá is located in an intermediate seismic threat area. (…) the impact of an earthquake in Bogotá would be huge because the norms for an earthquake resistant architecture were adopted too late and that’s why 80 per cent of the buildings could collapse loudly.

Solano also criticized the media coverage and asked them to be more “responsible”. For example, some media outlets, like El Tiempo or Caracol Radio, claimed the National University of Colombia campus was evacuated, which wasn’t true (later they corrected the wrong information they provided).

The worst thing is that for almost two centuries a “prophecy” by father Francisco Margallo y Duquesne still rings in the ears of a lot of Bogotans every August, who said, “On the 31 August a year I won’t tell / successive earthquakes will destroy Santafé” (Bogotá’s colonial name, which was taken up again on 1991-2000). Although in 1917 (when several earthquakes actually struck the then big town) and in 1973 the Margallo prophecy was about to be fulfilled [ES], the last time Bogotá has been hit by a high magnitude earthquake was February 1967. In May there was an earthquake [ES] which left no victims (it was a Saturday around midnight, so I didn’t feel it). Maybe some people stayed away because of the date. In a Catholic country, is not strange to find some devote souls [ES] asking to go back to praying, as if a natural disaster was a punishment from God. The fans of the “triangle of lifehoax also show up [ES] on the forums. Of course, not everyone [ES] is so ignorant.

The office of Bogotá’s mayor has been working for years in a campaign [ES] in order to teach Bogotans what to do and how to prevent these events. Though the campaign has been praised, if you saw what happened on August 28, most people did not heed the advice. As Hodracirk's blog [ES], writes:

Ayer Bogota fue victima de una broma, que causo pánico generalizado, un flashmob conocido solo por una persona…Lo realmente sorprendente es ver lo credulos que somos, y la falta de cultura de la sociedad que cree que un terremoto se puede predecir de esa manera, incluso algunos cerca a mi casa salieron comprar víveres, adicional mente esto es una prueba para de que la ciudad esta mal preparada para afrontar una emergencia de este tipo.

Yesterday, Bogota became victim of a prank, that caused general panic, a flashmob only known to one person… It was surprising to see how gullible we are, and the lack of knowledge of a society that thinks an earthquake an be predicted this way. Even some near my house bought supplies, which shows that the city is unprepared to face an emergency like this.

  • lela

    Aloha-

    We had a similar event in Hawaii following our big earthquake on October 15, 2006. Someone ‘with nothing better to do’ spread the word that they were expecting a 8.0 earthquake to hit the next day. Apparently word got out to the media, who prompty reported it as a false alarm, thereby spreading the rumor instead of quelling it.

    Makes one wonder the source of this kind of disinformation. Is it just a bored citizen, or some contrived way of amping up the terror of the populace at every opportunity?

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