The McCann Time Capsule:  The 1976 Guatemala Earthquake

The McCann Time Capsule: The 1976 Guatemala Earthquake

In this current season of seriously destructive and seemingly never-ending natural disasters, the McCann annals record what was probably the longest displacement experienced by any of our offices as a consequence of nature’s fury—the 1976 earthquake in Guatemala that relocated our agency to a warehouse for a few years.

The 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck on Feb. 4, 1976 about 100 miles northeast of Guatemala City, killing 23,000 people, seriously injuring more than 70,000, and leaving a million people homeless.  McCann’s downtown Guatemala City headquarters was still standing, but became inoperable because of damage to the structure (as shown in the pictured façade), and the agency’s 29 employees moved out to temporary headquarters in a warehouse.

The network sprang quickly into action both to help our Guatemalan agency and to help people throughout that country.  As records from the time indicate, an executive from our agency in neighboring “El Salvador drove a truckload of provisions to Guatemala City and, somehow, in all the chaos, managed to rendezvous with our people.”

Willy Olyslager, the McCann Guatemala manager who was also a licensed pilot, then “got together with the members of his aerial club to fly first-aid supplies, water, food and medicines to the badly hit outlying provinces,” according to an agency report at the time.

“The hundreds of landslides from the quake had blocked all major highways to and from the capital so other existing highways had to be used as landing strips, many very dangerous due to trees, telephone posts and 10 to 15 mile crosswinds. Willy reports that the Civil Air Patrol mobilized 64 aircraft and half a dozen privately owned helicopters. At the end of the crisis, they had flown 672 missions and had carried 374,000 pounds of food, 145,000 pounds of medicine and 123,000 pounds of clothing. In five days, Willy himself flew a number of foreign reporters over the destroyed zones, including a CBS television crew, a France-Presse reporter and the Akron Beacon Journal editor.”

The McCann Guatemala agency had moved into temporary headquarters with expectations that it would be back in its old offices in a few months—by May 1976. Instead, the move back wasn’t able to happen until 1978—two years, two months and 22 days later! The office by then had been renovated and the agency celebrated its return with a big party and new business gains.

“Homecoming was made even more memorable for the 15-year old operation by several nice pieces of new business: two added brands from British American Tobacco and assignments from new clients Anavi, the national egg board; Adinsa, a real estate firm; and United Brands.” 

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