The wrong place at the wrong time: Sun Moon Lake
 Sun Moon Lake is a small resort town with half a dozen medium-sized hotels on the waterfront. High in the mountains, surrounded by subtopical forest and famous for its morning mists, it has a cool, refreshing beauty. It is a favorite spot for honeymooning and viewing the autumn moon. It also sits directly atop a huge whacking faultline.

The Big One

    We were asleep on the 7th floor of the Tian Lu Hotel when the quake hit around 2:00 in the morning. It started fairly small but accelerated immediately; after a few seconds we knew this was going to be a Big One. It was pitch dark but we could hear a number of unidentified flying objects begin bouncing around the room, and when I heard the television bounce off its cabinet and shatter on the floor, I knew the building itself must be taking a real thrashing. 
    My two greatest goals in life became hanging onto the bed so I wouldn't get thrown off, and fleeing the building the instant the shaking stopped. When it did, we grabbed our shoes and knapsacks, which we could only see from the faint emergency light in the hallway, and headed for the stairwell with all the other guests. 
    It was a ghostly scene, and I found the descent more frightening than the quake. The 7th floor ceiling was ripped open and spewing water, and hunks of wire and debris littered the floor and hung from the walls. On some floors the flashlight beams illuminated glimpses of trashed corridors and cracked cement, and I found myself thinking of every catastrophe that might erupt before we made it to the ground floor and out. I think everyone else was thinking the same. 
    Once we were all out in the street, though, it seemed the worst was over. We were a bit dazed but relieved.
    All the guests were milling around in the dark out front when the first aftershock hit a few moments later. It wasn't too scary at first; we crouched down a little. Maybe we held our breath a bit. It shook harder. Then, in the dim light from the headlights of two parked cars, we watched as our hotel shuddered, crackled, and collapsed into a heap of rubble right before our eyes. It took only seconds. When we started breathing again, we felt lucky. Veeeerry lucky.
     In fact, the town was lucky: a famous villa and a teachers' hostel in the hills were destroyed, but we only heard of 2 or 3 deaths in the area. Much of "downtown" was messy but not truly demolished. As far as we could tell, our hotel and one other 3-story residence were the only sizeable buildings in town that collapsed. And there were a couple of heroes; their story is on the next page.

Next page: Photos of the hotel after the quake

The Tian Lu hotel, center

Fountain and marina on the 
lake side of our hotel, 
a few hours before the quake


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