Wednesday, July 30, 2008

California Earthquake Rockin' & Rollin'

Yesterday morning (Tuesday 7/29) around 11:42 a.m. PDT I was completing a responsive blog comment when I suddenly felt a gradual rolling sensation under me. As the feeling increased in intensity I realized we were having an earthquake. I stopped proof reading and started counting seconds out of curiosity in order to determine how long this expected short little interruption would last. I soon realized the rolling was intensifying, not stopping at all, so I ceased counting. I thought I'd best refocus my attention on what I needed to do for my own safety. I glanced at the bookcases along the wall nearest to my right to see if they and the books were staying in place. They were.

Motion ahead and above on my left caught my eye next causing me to notice the pull down light over the dining table at one end of my kitchen was swinging back and forth like an exceedingly active pendulum alternately extending approximately 15 inches each way. I was mesmerized by this sight as the seconds raced by leading me to think sufficient time had elapsed so this quake must surely be about to end. I determined it was probably best if I just stayed seated in my cushy desk chair since the final shake would come within the next second or two.

Then I felt the whole house begin to shake slightly as the structure began to stressfully creak and groan as though trying mightily to maintain its composure. I sensed and heard successive sharp jolts and cracks as the rolling slowly ratcheted down to usual stability and quiet. Sitting motionless for a brief moment, I quickly posted my incompletely proofed comment, and shut down my computer. Arising from my chair I began to consider hasty safety preparations should this be simply a foreshock of a larger quake to come.

As the moments passed by I scanned the living room from the entry to which I had walked in preparation for whatever I might have only short seconds to do. Surprisingly to me I saw no signs of cracks in the walls, nor had any items fallen. Correct or not, I began to gain confidence the worst was over. I decided to risk taking care of some personal business I had been postponing while at the computer. My gamble was I could hastily relieve myself before any more shaking might commence, should it come. At least I would be comfortable for a while in the eventuality my house's indoor plumbing was suddenly no longer useable.

Just as I emerged from the house's guest comfort station my cell phone began ringing. I answered to hear my son inquiring as to what was going on out here. A co-worker in his office had given him a heads up the California shaker had occurred minutes before. Assuring my son the house and I were still standing so far, I began surface scanning other rooms in the house for gross telltale signs of damage. Everything appeared to be intact with all utilities and appliances functional. One lower kitchen cabinet door under the long-out-of-commission oven was uncharacteristically ajar, so I closed it.

We laughed, just as I did with his sister later, when I was able to startle her with the rockin' and rollin' description of events here. Recently she's had to make do with traditional media since her computer crashed over a week ago but hadn't been watching news stations. She and I simultaneously listened and watched some radio and TV news accounts together while talking on our phones much as we did for hours on 9/11 years ago when she awakened me with her call from the east coast early that fateful morning. Today, my children and I could only reassure one another, finally speculating this appeared to be just another earthquake.

I can't help reflecting on the fact I've become so inured to earthquakes here over the past 30 plus years, I actually sat watching the light swinging when I should have been dropping and covering, hopefully at least with a pillow to protect my head. Fortunately, my children have firsthand familiarity with the earthquake experience so they don't panic over the situation, but retain a respectful attitude toward potential possibilities for a worse case scenario.

Perhaps my earthquake attitude is much like my brother's toward his Big Island volcano, though I must confess to feeling a bit antsy about their potential danger when Pele' starts spewing, or especially when the Trade Winds stop blowing the desired direction.

I didn't always feel so nonplussed by earthquakes. I could jump and get anxious just like many newcomers to Southern California when, I, too had not yet adapted. The rolling ones I tolerate much better than the sharp cracking jolting ones. This is the first quake I've experienced since I've been alone and a widow. I did just fine.

I can recall several strong quakes during my years here. Some have been quite destructive in the Los Angeles area, including 1994's Northridge Quake. Then there was the Quake in Claremont that news media attributed to nearby Upland angering some local Claremont residents. This was just one more instance for them of media disrespecting our fair city, just like when the Los Angeles paper would identify our Pomona College as being in nearby Pomona, or write of the Claremont College as just one school omitting the plural "s," indicating a consortium of many colleges. All I could think then was, who is so anxious to have our city identified as being the epicenter of even a small earthquake, accurate or not?

My favorite earthquake, though that's probably not the best descriptive adjective to use, is the1987 one along the Whittier-Narrows Fault. My then young adult daughter and I share a special memory of this shaker. Neither of us was completely adapted to the earthquake experience, or maybe the power and strength of this one made us anxious. Part of our problem was that each of us was in separate bathrooms when it hit. At that time a recommended safety position was to stand in an inner wall door frame, but that has since been determined to be unsafe. We rushed independently to door frames opening out on the hallway leading to the bedrooms at our home's first rumbling quiver. I can still picture the questioning "Is this the big one?" look on her face which I am sure was reflected on my own as I gazed down the hallway toward her. Oh, did I mention, how vulnerable we felt? We were both completely nude with no towels or clothes within arms reach wondering if we would need to make a mad dash outside.
We didn't have to.


  1. Apparently you didn't have to make the nude mad dash and I am sure you're glad about that! I am glad to know you were safe (I actually forgot you lived there).

    I don't know how you can get inured to them; they scare me to death!

  2. Kenju: No, we didn't have to make the "nude mad dash." While that shaker was bigger than this one, this quake's epicenter was much much closer.

    Interestingly, friends who lived southeast of the epicenter (I live north of it) and are native Californians reacted much as I did. I don't recommend having a blase' attitude and will try to behave more appropriately next time for my own sake.

  3. Honestly Joared...I guess over the years you get used to anything; but from my view her in IL...I'm quite amazed at how composed you Californians are by it all. I guess that would include my daughter, Jory too. I'm not so sure I would be quite so calm and cool. Do those tremors do any structural damage to your house? I'm glad they were minor blips on YOUR radar sweetie....

  4. joy: There is only so much in life we can control, so why stress out over the rest? Certainly in the beginning I felt anxious, but in time I guess some of us become desensitized, but that's not to say we don't have heightened alertness as to our surroundings and actions to take at such times.

    Construction building requirements here for many years have included consideration for minimizing the adverse effects of earthquakes. Unless there are indicators of a need to do so, I don't know of anyone who routinely would have a professional structural damage assessment after every earthquake we feel. Most people do have chimney sweeps conduct fireplace and chimney checks before use after a quake such as this one if they're in a strong shaking area.

  5. Interesting descriptions of your experiences. Quakes are scary even when they are not the 'big' one. The Pacific Northwest is due for a big one or rather overdue. I have been in a couple of small quakes with minimal or no damage. They still give you a funny feeling.

  6. There is only so much in life we can control, so why stress out over the rest?

    Ahh, but then, what to do about my middle name?

    Cowtown Worrywart Pattie?

    Worrying is what I do best, can't just toss that away willy nilly...

  7. My son lives in Van Nuys near the epicenter of the Norhridge quake. My phone rang in the morning to hear him say, "We're fine. We're okay." in a shaky voice. I didn't know what he was talking about until he told me about the earthquake.

    I was in one like you describe. I prefer not going through another. While every area has it's own dangers, I prefer the minimal damage mother earth does here to tornado, cyclone, floods and earthquake prone area.