When the largest earthquake of the century--measuring over 9 on the Richter scale--struck Chile in 1960, Professor Eduardo Kausel was there.
"I was in the third floor of my house. The whole house began moving and swaying like a cradle, very gently and silently, by what felt like a foot or so," he said. "Since I was in my first year of engineering school, I knew that there had been a massive earthquake far away. While I was too far from the epicenter (around 500 miles) to experience the truly spectacular motion, it was still quite an experience."
In the mid-1960s, Professor Kausel rode out another "very strong, terrifying" earthquake in Santiago. "I learned to appreciate the power and the experience of an earthquake. It's scary--not just the noise and the motion, but the fact that you don't really know how much worse it's going to get." Watching from the relative shelter of a car, "it was spectacular. You could see ripples in the street. Everything was undulating; buildings were moving relative to each other.
"Afterwards, a big dust cloud settled over the city because of the motion. Approaching airplanes radioed back that Santiago had been destroyed, simply because it had disappeared in a cloud of dust. It was one of the deciding factors why I went into dynamics and earthquake engineering."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 12, 1997.