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Mexico's earthquake is a sobering and graphic reminder of what's in store for L.A. someday

There’s a video on Twitter that I can’t stop replaying. An apartment building shivers violently during the magnitude 7.1 earthquake near Mexico City on Tuesday. Without warning, the building collapses into a cloud of dust.

It’s shocking in same way that the pancaking of the two World Trade Center towers was difficult to process even as I watched it over and over on that terrible day 16 years ago. The buildings were solidly there one moment, then suddenly they had been reduced to a pile of rubble and dust.

In the video one woman, I think it’s the person making the recording, says “Dios mio. Dios mio. Dios mio” (My God. My God. My God) over and over, her tone shifting from disbelief to terror to the deepest anguish in just a few seconds. It breaks my heart every time.

It’s not because I have friends or family in Mexico City for whom I am worried. I don’t, though I have friends who do and many Angelenos surely do as well. I’m not even particularly familiar with the city. I’ve been there exactly twice, the first time a couple of months before a monster 8.0 magnitude nearly obliterated the city — 32 years ago exactly. Though of course my heart goes out to the people whose lives and homes were just ripped apart, and of course they will be in our collective prayers, what keeps me riveted to my Twitter feed and the videos therein is the sense that I’m glimpsing my own future.

Los Angeles shares more than a cultural and ethnic heritage with its sister city; both Mexico City and L.A. are prone to catastrophic seismic activity. Less than two weeks ago another part of Mexico was struck by a magnitude 8.1 earthquake. On Monday night, parts of Los Angeles were shaken by a relatively tiny 3.6 temblor. We know that someday, any day, it will be Los Angeles’ turn for a Big One. That’s what the experts tell us, though it’s easy to forget when the ground is still. This was a sobering and graphic reminder.

The wonder, or perhaps the horror, of social media is that it allows people to remotely participate in a catastrophe in a personal but safe way. Photos are one thing, but hearing the real terror and fear from those who are there fully experiencing it in real time is another thing entirely. In another earthquake video shared on Twitter, a man holds a phone to record his reaction along with that of a woman in the room. He says no way, no way, no way and the woman babbles, I think she’s praying, as the furniture topples and the room rocks. It’s a terribly intimate moment I’m almost embarrassed to watch. But it strikes a chord. I’ve been there. And I will be there again, most likely.

I’ve been through a big earthquake before, the Loma Prieta in 1989. But it was a long time ago and no one had cellphones, let alone video-enabled smartphones, back then. Few people had camcorders handy, either, when the shaking began. I’ve forgotten that growing sense of terror when the shaking doesn’t stop and only gets worse. I’ve forgotten that terrible feeling that my life hinges on what I did or did not do at that moment. I’ve forgotten, that is, until I watched this video and others.

I will #prayforMexico over the next few days as the searchers continue combing through the rubble for people and hope the death toll goes no higher than it is now. I will listen eagerly to the stories of how people escaped death, of why some buildings fell and others stayed in place, looking for clues and lessons. I will pay attention. I will take notes. And hopefully, when it’s L.A.’s turn, I will be ready.

mariel.garza@latimes.com

Follow me @marielgarzaLAT

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