McALLEN — It was just before midnight on Thursday when McAllen businessman Adrian A. Arriaga awoke to his bed trembling and the eerie sound of twisting metal.
Startled, it wasn’t long before the 67-year-old international commercial broker realized that the sensation he was experiencing was an earthquake.
“I got up but couldn’t keep my balance because the building was swaying about a yard from left to right … it was scary,” Arriaga said.
Away for a week on business in Polanco, an upscale shopping district in Mexico City, Arriaga didn’t know at the time that what he felt were the effects of Mexico’s strongest earthquake in the country’s history.
Such was its magnitude — measuring 8.1 — that it was felt 650 miles from its epicenter along the Guatemala border and off the Pacific coast, according to Associated Press reports. Arriaga said he was more than 300 miles away, and yet the quake’s force was enough to violently rock his hotel, the InterContinental skyscraper formerly known as the Presidente, back and forth.
There, inside the darkened 36th floor hotel room, the past chairman of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce and former Rotary Club president said all he could do was wait out the earthquake.
“I knew it was just a matter of hanging on,” he said. “The only problem is that you couldn’t hang on to something. You could also hear the noise of the building creaking and cracking. Large buildings are flexible for earthquake purposes, but when you hear the sound it’s quite alarming. It doesn’t sound as bad as a freight train, but it comes in little dashes and it’s not continuous. It was like a staccato sound of this weird creaking and cracking in the building.”
In his role as chairman of the International Activities Committee for Certified Commercial Investments Member, or CCIM, Arriaga said he was in Mexico City to help partner members with a Mexican real estate organization for training purposes. And if not for the earthquake, Arriaga said it would have been an otherwise “uneventful evening.”
“What’s interesting is the tranquility one feels when there’s nothing you can do, you just sit around, wait until it’s over and see if it passes,” said Arriaga, who’s also the owner of AAA Real Estate & Investments in McAllen. “It goes from anxiety to concern to tranquility — these are the feelings you get in your mind.”
In the earthquake’s aftermath, Arriaga said he could see from his hotel window that guests were running out of the lobby and into the street. He was also checking social media for any news on what had occurred.
“Do I attempt to go down?” Arriaga recalled pondering. “So I called downstairs and they said, ‘Don’t worry, we think it’s over.’ I turned on the TV and they first said it was 8.0, and then they said it was 8.1. The next morning, at breakfast, all the guests were talking about it.”
Although devastation was left in its wake elsewhere and the death toll continues to climb, Arriaga, who didn’t arrive home until Friday afternoon, said the area where he was staying sustained minimal damage.