There is a network of oceanic trenches and volcanic belts in the Pacific Ocean that is responsible for approximately ninety percent of the world's earthquakes. The system—which is also home to seventy-five percent of the world's active volcanoes—traces the edges of many of the Earth's tectonic plates. It is commonly known as the ring of fire.
The ring of fire is approximately 40,000km long and includes the Middle American Trench, a region formed by the convergence of the Caribbean, Nazca, Cocos and North American tectonic plates. The area where the Caribbean and Cocos plates meet is known as a subduction zone: a point of collision where one tectonic plate slides under another and is pushed down into the Earth's mantle. This subduction zone is responsible for the Central American Volcanic Arc, which runs parallel to the Pacific coast of Central America. Like many subduction zones, it is prone to earthquakes.
San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, sits in the shadow of the San Salvador volcano, one of twenty-two active volcanoes within the country's borders. The city is about 30km from the Pacific Ocean. If the Central American Volcanic Arc were above ground, it would be visible from El Salvador's Pacific coast.
On October 10th, 1986, tectonic movement along the Central American Volcanic Arc caused an earthquake that devastated San Salvador, killing approximately fifteen hundred people and injuring over ten thousand. The earthquake, which reached a reported magnitude of 5.7, destroyed the city's infrastructure, leaving around two hundred thousand homeless. The disaster was on the front page of the New York Times the following day alongside a black and white photograph of Mikhail Gorbachev, who was in Iceland to meet with President Reagan about arms controls.
In 1986, El Salvador was six years into a civil war that would last until 1992.
Michelle Campos Castillo was 3 years old in 1986 and was living in San Salvador with her mother, father, and two sisters. On October 10th, she was at home with her family. That is where our story begins.
Written for Michelle Campos Castillo’s exhibition at Latitude 53.