Shake, Rattle, Roll: Our Little Earthquake

Hives, in Chile, toppled by an earthquake. (Photo: Rey)

I live in one of the less shaky parts of the world. I don’t think that Calgary has ever had a damaging earthquake. (Granted, the city isn’t much over a hundred years old, so it’s a short history.)  When the Rocky Mountains (50 kilometres to my left) popped out of the ground, there must have been some horrific earthquakes. However, our last tectonic jolt was millions of years ago. It’s been quiet ever since.

But Montana, just a few hours’ drive south of us, suffered a hefty shake last week.  Folks around Missoula woke up to the biggest quake they’d had in over 20 years. It measured 5.8 on the shake-me scale. That’s enough to rattle windows, close doors, smash some dishes, and mimic poltergeist behaviour. That’s the worst that Mother Earth has thrown at Big Sky Country in decades. Across the border, up here in Canada, a few people say that they felt the Earth move that night, but I didn’t.  Closer to the epicenter, beehives would not have thought much more than, “Good grief! Is that the truck taking us to almonds already?”

But it was quite a different story a few years back in one of the world’s most alluring countries – Chile. About a week after I visited in 2010, Chile experienced the sixth strongest earthquake ever recorded, anywhere on Earth. The ground bolted upwards, traveled ten feet, then crashed back down. That’s right – houses, gas stations, firetrucks, everything – lifted and flung three metres. Scientists from Ohio State used GPS to measure the movement. If you were able to leap high into the air when the quake struck, and (even more skillfully) stayed afloat for half a minute, you’d have fallen into your neighbour’s yard, which would have moved in under your feet.

The February 27, 2010, magnitude 8.8 Chilean earthquake released the energy of 240 million tonnes of TNT. A 600-kilometre wedge of oceanic Nazca Plate subducted under South America while the continent lifted and sprung westwards.  Six hundred people were killed. Fifty billion dollars was lost through damages and interrupted business. Homes, schools, bridges, and apartment buildings toppled. 125 million bottles of wine fell and broke, turning streets red in vineyard towns.

I have beekeeping friends in Chile (that’s why I was visiting). They and their families were OK. But their companies were not. They sent me chilling photographs, a few of which are on today’s post. You can see what the quake did to their businesses. Francisco Rey was in the middle of his queen rearing season. Hives and nucs were scattered everywhere, queens lost, cell-builders destroyed. Honey packer Juan Pablo Molina lost two million pounds of honey when drums were knocked over, lids popped, and honey drained.

The firms of both Srs. Rey and Molina were kilometres from the epicenter, so destruction wasn’t total. But it was still devastating. That was seven years ago. Both of my friends are still in business, but they lost a lot.  If you’d like to know how to prepare for an earthquake, or if you’d like to see a complete story about how this big one affected beekeeping in Chile, here’s a link to an article I wrote for American Bee Journal at the time. Meanwhile, we’re thankful that Montana was just slightly shaken – this time.

Drums of honey tossed and churned by the big one in 2010. (Photo: Molina)

The floor is flooded – with lost honey. (Photo: Molina)

Repairing the damage. Francisco Rey and his team went from apiary to apiary, reconstructing hives, one at a time. (Photo: Rey)


About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
This entry was posted in Friends, Honey, Queens, Science, Strange, Odd Stuff and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Shake, Rattle, Roll: Our Little Earthquake

  1. Pingback: Shake, Rattle, Roll: Our Little Earthquake | Raising Honey Bees

  2. Emily Scott says:

    Very sad, feel bad for the bees and the Chileans struggling to rebuild their homes and businesses afterwards.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ron Miksha says:

      This was a few years ago, so things are back to normal. But, of course, it must be really hard (and cost a lot) to recover. The frequency of this size of devastating earthquake is about two per century in Chile’s central regions.


  3. Pingback: Shake, Rattle, Roll: Our Little Earthquake | Beginner Beekeeper

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