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The lazy swaying of the ground began again and we looked across the playground, watching long, low, quick swells pass across the surface, and the ground vibrated like gel as aftershocks came through. Sometimes the ground seemed to rotate slightly, as though the playground were a bowl of pudding with us at the center, and it was being twisted back and forth by someone gripping the circumference. This is impossible, of course, even in an earthquake. And yet there it was.

When one of these weird contortions would occur, whatever teacher or school official was addressing the assembly would pause briefly and uncertainly before bringing the megaphone back into speaking position. It was only a slight hesitation in what was really a seamlessly professional, well-drilled conduct of the safety procedures. Yet I couldn't help noticing it. I'd seen it somewhere before and decades ago, in a crowd — was it a plane crash? A traffic accident? A fire? I couldn't remember.

We heard a series of explosions, softly in the distance. But while seeing the solid ground turn liquid before our eyes, we were beyond concern about what these might be.

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