More than a Little Shaking

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

Fifty years ago, José Argomedo, then 22 years old, was living on a farm outside Maullín, Chile, when he heard that the Cold War might turn hot:

Early in May 1960, the big news was the tension between the United States and the Soviet Union — a Soviet missile had downed an American spy plane. On May 18, the Soviet leader, Nikita Khruschev, suggested treating the United States like a cat that had stolen cream. “Wouldn’t it be better,” he said, “to take the American aggressors by the scruff of the neck also and give them a little shaking?”

A few days later, on the afternoon of May 22, while out riding his horse, Mr. Argomedo felt more than a little shaking. As the ground beneath him shook hard for several minutes, he was forced to get off his horse. Mr. Argomedo thought the Cold War had turned hot. However, like everyone else in the area of Maullín, Quenuir, and La Pasada, he was actually living through a magnitude 9.5 earthquake, the largest ever measured.

Mr. Argomedo was on high ground during the hours that followed the earthquake. However, many other residents of the area were not, and 122 were killed by the ensuing tsunami.

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