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 Travels in time to Bucuresti, Romania

By Iolanda Scripca

December 29, 2011 (San Diego’s East County)--After a warm visit with my grown son, I tell him “Good bye !” He hugs me and jumps into his car. We wave back and forth and I still do not go back into the house until the curve fades away his presence.  Life is so precious and, when you think I could have died decades ago, at age sixteen, the  memories of that evening still give me goose bumps. ..My son, Christopher, would have been just an undefined wish of energy wandering in this infinite universe.


Winding back my life’s clock…I was just a teenager who got out of the shower at 9:10 p.m. ready to go to bed in my parents’ condominium on the thirteenth floor of the Gioconda Tower, in Bucuresti, Romania. My Dad was watching TV, my older brother had a friend visiting him, and my Mom was about to come back home after teaching a night school class. Who knew that in about 10 more minutes people’s lives were about to change or cease?

The whole corridor became a furious snake; electricity died completely, darkness took over, and my first instinct was to open the exit door but I lost my balance. My brother’s friend managed to lift me up opening the door when a huge piece of plaster fell on my Dad and could not hear him any longer …Oh, God! I just lost Daddy…

I was jumping from one stage of my short life to the next: “I don’t wantto die !!!” …I held that friend tightly as the building started to sway baaaaack, then stopped, roaring, readjusting its position, then foooorth…then baaack…tens of seconds felt like hours.

The seventeen (plus) floor Gioconda Tower was one of the buildings designed in the early 1960’s, a modern foundation on huge rollers, so the motion was amplified many, many times. It had four sides with an inner yard and four elevators in its corners.

There was a pause like never before. I could sense an eerie me wearing some sort of sandals sliding from step to step, skipping five steps at a time, pushed and kicked off the way, down the stairs, as crowds were coming down from four other upper floors. A mute panic in an obscure,
unknown space, like “running with the bulls” of survival and “what if another earthquake starts…”. I don’t know how I got out of that inferno: either pushed or carried by angels…

The cold full moon cast a frozen, tearless reality check on all the residents of my building. We, all, were motionless pawns in the game of “Live Chess”… Someone was removing my torn apart sandals, someone was rubbing my feet and putting some warm man’s socks on my little feet: it
was my Dad!

Neighbors who never spoke to each other before, now, finally, had something in common to talk about. Humanity, survival, and community of spirit started melting hearts as one could hear spontaneous clapping,cheering, and a strong applause ?!? I stood up and we all gathered
around (most of the time ignored) lonely eighty year old man who, later, I found out, was the architect (now retired) who created our building and, now, saved our lives…

I had my Dad and my brother alive. While we all looked at one another fearing our Mom’s fate I could, finally, see her beautiful and slender figure approaching us through the darkness of that cold night. Who could have imagined that while my family was breathing and hugging,
1,578 people (1,424 in Bucuresti) were dead or dying after this 7.5 magnitude earthquake? That 11,300 people were wounded and thirty three big building around us collapsed and/or caught on fire (two of my playmates died in the fire, in the building behind mine) and 35,000
buildings were damaged?
Several huge talents who are engraved in the history of the Romanian culture perished in this earthquake:

Anatol Baconski, poet
Doina Badea, musician
Alexandru Bocăneţ, film producer
Savin Bratu, literary critic
Toma Caragiu, actor, Daniela Caurea, poet
Florin Ciorăscu, physicist
Dr. Ana Conea, geoscientist
Tudor Dumitrescu, pianist
Mihai Gafiţa,writer
Eduard Gaman, pianist
Alexandru Ivasiuc, writer
Mihaela Mărăcineanu, mezzo-soprano
Eliza Petrăchescu, actress
Mihail Petroveanu, literary critic
Liviu Popa, film director
Corneliu M. Popescu, poem translator
Veronica Porumbacu, poet
Ioan Siadbei, literary critic
Tudor Stavru, stunt man

Seven people tried to keep warm crowded in a compact car for three days and nights after the earthquake. After a couple of hours the driver decided to take us to a safer place, away from the center of the capital, at a students’ dormitory complex where the four story buildings were spread apart with no chance of collapsing structures.

We , finally, had some water bottles when, in the early morning, there was a strong aftershock, about 4.5 magnitude on the Richter scale. I could hear tens of windows shutter and, then, it stopped. Screams and cries told us to get out and commandeered our car. You see, many “brave”
students went inside their rooms after the “big one“, fell asleep, and were taken by surprise by the aftershock so, being half asleep, they jumped out the windows of the fourth floor…The carnage, blood, and sirens were indescribable.
The third day, finally, I was able to swallow a slice of orange. We spent about two weeks like Nomads, sleeping in different friends’ undamaged houses until the engineers gave us the “OK” to go back to the thirteen floor (more than a month later, for fear of the multiple aftershocks)

Now, as a resident of San Diego East County for many years, but with my previous experience, I look at life differently. I will always say “Hello!” to my neighbors and not wait for an earthquake to create a human atmosphere. When I felt those warm socks on my feet I knew I still have a Dad, and when that slender but worried figure approached me in the dark I felt secure and protected by my Mom. My parents were alive!

Next time, when my son, Christopher, comes and visits, I will peel an orange and share it with him, slice by slice, recalling the story of my survival and reminding him how precious is to have family and, simply, share a slice of orange with the ones you love …




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Travels in Time - Earthquake in Romania

You have written a gripping story, Iolanda.  You had me right there on the thirteenth floor with you, in the dark and shaking apartment.  I thank God I've never had to live through something like that.  Amazing, isn't it, how ten seconds can change our outlook on life and make us appreciate what we have.  Thank you for reliving this to let us know what you went through.  Linda