Thousands of holidaymakers were on the Greek island of Kos when it was hit by an earthquake this summer. Kristen Woudstra, an Australian woman who lives in Maassluis with her Dutch husband and two children was one of them. She works as a personal assistant and blogs about her life in the Netherlands at Kristen in Clogland.
We were four days into our fourteen day vacation in Kos Town, on the Greek island of Kos. We had been looking forward to this holiday for months. It had been a tough year.
That day was just like the previous three, we lazed by the pool of our resort, swam, had a siesta, then swam some more. In the evening, we walked into the city centre where we enjoyed a fantastic dinner in a picturesque little Greek restaurant, then went to our favourite little place near the main town square for some ice cream.
We marveled at the ancient buildings and structures, the marina and the old castle walls. We then walked back to our apartment (a ten minute stroll from the city centre) and put our two kids to bed. My husband, my mother in law and I sat out on our terrace and enjoyed a glass of wine, then went to bed around midnight.
A terrible wakeup
It was around 1:30am when I was suddenly woken in the most terrifying way. There was an overwhelmingly loud rumbling sound as though a massive jet plane was about to crash nearby. Then the entire four story building above us began rocking and shaking violently in such a way that it was sure to collapse and crush both my family and I (before I even knew what was actually occurring at that moment).
I cried out with confusion and I felt my husband put his arm around me in a reassuring way and tell me it’s ok, in an attempt to calm me. The bed was shaking so wildly that I had to hold on to it so that I wouldn’t be thrown off. After about ten seconds, the shaking finally stopped just as suddenly as it had begun and I sprung out of bed, turned the lights on and ran to my six year old son in the next room (who had thankfully somehow slept through the entire ordeal!!).
The power went out and everything went completely dark. I then found my way to the second bedroom to check my eight year old daughter and mother in law, who were already up and out on the terrace, planning their next move.
The next thing I heard was a man shouting ‘Out!! Everybody out!!’ over and over, and over again. An employee from the resort was running from room to room, floor to floor, getting everyone out as quickly as possible before the first aftershock hit. The five of us quickly threw on the first clothes we could find, and ran outside, jumping up over the terrace wall and onto the street, where we joined over two hundred other half-dressed (or not dressed at all) guests from our hotel. We followed each other like a line of shell-shocked ants away from the building and towards an empty plot of land close by.
It was at this point when I realised, my god, that was an earthquake. A really big one. I was just in an earthquake. Holy crap! The shock began to set in, as did the emotions. The fear of what happened and relief that we were all ok. Tears spilled out and my legs were weak and shaking like jelly. I hugged my family.
Waiting for aftershocks
As we stood there on that dark, vacant plot, I looked around at all the wide-eyed people standing around me. Families with crying toddlers and babies, young naked couples wrapped in a bed sheet or towel, elderly couples in their pyjamas and bare feet. We were all standing there trying to comprehend what had just happened and, most importantly, wondering if it would happen again.
There were whispers that we might have to wait there for an hour before they could declare the building safe for us to go back inside. Little did we know it would be days. The local people living near the resort thoughtfully brought the waiting guests bottles of water and offered support. They were used to earthquakes on the island, but at the same time, they said they ‘had never in their lives experienced one that big’. I let my family members in Australia know that we were safe, and although we were very shaken up (literally), we were all ok.
We were told there could be aftershocks and that it was not safe to go back inside the building. We also learned that that the earthquake measured a whopping 6.7 on the Richter scale! Within 25 minutes, a second tremor measuring 5.1 struck.
I held my family tight and tried my best to stay strong for our kids. If I showed panic, it would not help them in any way. However, on the inside, I was on the edge of a full blown panic attack. What the hell had I gotten myself into this time!? Will I survive this night? Will bigger quakes come? It was my very first earthquake experience and I had no idea what to expect. We found a spot to sit down on the curb. It was to be a long, long night.
After an hour or more of waiting on that curb, our bums numb from the concrete, we came to the conclusion that we would be waiting outside longer than initially anticipated and decided to look for somewhere a little more comfortable. We walked back closer to the resort and found some chairs outside the restaurant.
There we waited; three tremors measuring 4.6, 4.5 and 4.7 and the many more slight tremors ensuring that we did not sleep one wink. The sun came up and we realised that we had been sitting there for almost five hours. But it was in a way, a relief to see the sun rise that morning. Somehow it all seemed a little less scary.
Apart from a few broken plates in the restaurant and some fallen pot pants, the hotel remained undamaged. It was built in 2003 with concrete and iron; built to be flexible and study in order to survive earthquakes just like this one. We were one of the lucky ones.
Others had not been as lucky. We had heard that just a few kilometers away in the city centre, hundreds had been injured and two tourists had lost their lives when buildings collapsed during the earthquake that night.
As we had direct access to our room, and had no need to use the stairwell or lift, we decided to return to our beds for a couple of hours sleep if we could manage it. We kept our clothes on and the doors open in case we should need a quick exit. Never have I been more grateful for a ground floor apartment. We all fell into a deep sleep, hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.
The next days
I woke up around 9am and briefly wondered if the whole thing had been a bad dream. But the sick feeling still in the pit of my stomach told me otherwise. The trauma had only just begun.
That day we experienced constant tremors. Each aftershock raising our heartbeats and conjuring up that same dreadful feeling from the night before. In addition, every time I heard a distant rumble, my anxiety returned. The distant rumble of a truck driving past, a motorbike starting up, or plane flying overhead.
For several days following the earthquake, we were still feeling aftershocks and worst of all, we still had no running water. The water pipes had been damaged and the entire city of Kos was without water supply. No shower. No toilet flush. Not pleasant. We managed by brushing our teeth with bottled water and bathing in either the sea or the pool.
We walked into the centre of town. Beautiful buildings we had admired were now in ruins. Our favourite little ice cream parlour was so damaged it had to close. Due to unsafe, damaged hotels, apartment buildings and houses, countless people in Kos Town had to resort to sleeping in public parks, on beach sunbeds, or in their cars. Locals and tourists alike.
Most of the hotel staff and their families were sleeping in their cars, parked on the road by our hotel (and continued to do so for at least a week). Many of our fellow hotel guests left, along with the hundreds of other tourists, and flew back home. The fear was too great to stay. The fear of another big one. The lack of running water was also an issue.
Although my fear remained, I also realised that it was unlikely that another quake of that scale would hit Kos. I was aware that the aftershocks should only weaken, our hotel was very strong, and I was not ready to throw our much needed holiday out the window just yet. We had saved for a year to go on our annual family vacation and we were determined not to let fear get the better of us and to begin re-enjoying our time in Greece!
You can read the original, longer post on Kristen in Clogland.