Suddenly the building started to shake violently and– propelled by instinct– we both flew out the door and down the stairs to the street below. The whole city emptied into the streets as the earthquake continued for a few more minutes. Then all fell silent. We had no way of knowing if this was a minor quake or where it was located. Though the buildings within sight were standing, over the next few hours we heard the epicenter was 50 miles away, where hundreds of people had been killed, with more reports streaming in. After a few hours of milling around fearfully in the street we decided the danger had passed (foolishly) and we returned to the apartment and I went to sleep while Martin tried to contact his family. But no sooner did I nod off when the quake resumed and again we raced into the street. By then it was midnight and all up and down the street crowds of people huddled around bonfires to keep warm.
Martin was very apprehensive, not knowing where his sister and parents were. He would place me with some friends around a fire, promising to return in a while; then he'd disappear, leaving me in a crowd of strangers with whom I shared no language. But after an hour or more he'd return to check on me, sometimes with a bit of food or water, and deliver what news he could.This continued all night, Martin disappearing but always coming back to make sure I was safe among his also frantic friends. I recall at one point standing with a crowd of 30 or 40 huddled around a single transistor radio, eagerly sucking up news when suddenly the crowd backed up and someone handed me the radio. The news was then repeated in English.
By morning Martin had still not found his family and was ragged with worry. It was clear that I could be of little help and his concern for me was only a burden, so I reluctantly took my leave. Later when services were restored I was very relieved to hear that Martin's family were all OK and that their building, though damaged, was still safe to live in. But as the scale of the disaster became apparent it was clear many were not so lucky. The Irpinia quake, 6.89 on the Richter scale, had killed nearly 3000 people and left 300,000 homeless.
The concern for a stranger of this remarkable man in the midst of his own crisis– and that of his attentive neighbors– left me with an unbreakable faith in humanity. Sure there are some cads and jerks everywhere, but people are basically good the world over! Thank you, Martin, and all of you who also serve a cause greater than yourself!