Friday, December 13, 2013

Shake, Rattle, and Roll - Jamie, 47

Of course, I knew that California was earthquake country. The historic Loma Prieta Earthquake occurred on Tuesday, October 17, 1989. I was living and working in Arizona and remember it well. The earthquake occurred during warm-ups for the third game of the Major League Baseball’s World Series between the Oakland A’s (Athletics) and the San Francisco Giants in San Francisco.  We were still at work when we heard the initial reports over the radio.  The earthquake was a magnitude 6.9—but a 7.1 on the surface.
Dramatic coverage was all over the news when I arrived home that evening. Over sixty people lost their lives, and thousands were injured.  Forty-two people were killed in Oakland when the Cypress Street Viaduct collapsed onto the Nimitz Freeway. Ed and I watched as rescuers attempted to locate and extricate people crushed in their cars on the freeway’s lower deck of the double-deck portion. Buildings had collapsed in nearby Santa Cruz.  Actually, it was lucky that the World Series was being held in San Francisco. Since both teams were from the area many people left work early—or stayed late—to watch the game making the usual Tuesday evening gridlock on the freeways light at the time of the quake.
In February of 1990, I moved to Southern California with my boyfriend, Ed—only three months after that major earthquake near San Francisco.  Although we were living in earthquake country, I never gave them much thought.  
That is until one day in 1991. While working at MacLachlan, Burford and Arias in San Bernardino, California, I was sitting in our break area in the hallway near the glass front doors along 5th Avenue.  All of a sudden it felt as if the chair beneath me was rising up and down in a regular, but almost slow, motion. As I simultaneously watched out the doors, I could not believe my eyes. The driveway into our parking lot and the sidewalk began to rise and fall in a motion similar to a caterpillar ride in an amusement park.  This is very interesting, I thought.  If this is an earthquake, it is not at all what I expect.  I expected to shake violently and have things crashing all around, but in a weird way, this experience was tranquil—like bobbing in the swells of the ocean.
I was able to keep calm because I was surrounded by seasoned earthquake veterans, attorneys and long time California residents Ed and Kathy, and my friend and our computer expert, Sandra . They did not show any signs of panic nor did they express any concerns. There was no running for the door jambs.  I dutifully followed suit and sat there calmly enjoying the ride.   
The second time I felt an earthquake was in June of 1992, when I was six months pregnant.  Ed and I were roused from a deep sleep on Sunday, June 28, around 5:00 a.m., as our antique metal-framed bed on casters began shaking side to side on the tile floor. Like marooned survivors of a shipwreck we groggily watched as we rocked away from the wall towards the center of the room. As soon as we realized what was happening, we jumped up and headed for the door jamb.  However, before we could reach our safe destination, it was over—everything became quiet and still as quickly and as suddenly as it began. I ran around the house taking all of our pictures off the walls in anticipation of aftershocks. This was the biggest earthquake we had experienced.      
I decided to lie back down after being so rudely jolted awake.  I woke after an hour or two to a beautiful sunny, and so far, calmer June morning.  I changed out of my P.J.’s into casual clothes and headed towards the dining room—my usual Sunday routine. 
“Come on, Rommel,” I called as I approached the wooden Dutch door leading onto our front porch. Our Rottweiler never hesitated when either Ed or I was heading out.  He loved to play in the yard and go on walks. When I did not hear him galloping behind me, I turned and called again. He would not come out of the dining room.  He stood there, just inside the doorway, watching me.
What the heck is his issue, I thought.  Oh, well, maybe Ed had him out earlier, before he headed to the swap meet. I proceeded across the lawn and almost to the front gate, when I felt the ground begin to move.  Oh no, not again!  How bad will this one be?  Will it be the big one?  I ran back across the yard, onto the front porch and into the house.  I grabbed Rommel by his collar and pulled him into the door jamb of the Dutch door with me. I made him sit and then straddled his huge frame so that he could not run away.
The quakes never last for very long, but while you are in the moment, they seem to last forever. The uncertainty of the outcome is frightening. It is a complete lack of control while you are at the mercy of the Earth. 
Before we knew it, it was over. I called Rommel into the living room so I could turn on the TV and watch the news reports. They were reporting the early morning quake was the Landers Earthquake and at 7.3, it was the largest earthquake to hit Southern California in forty years. Luckily, because it was centered in the Mojave Desert, 120 miles from Los Angeles and 80 miles from us, it caused minimal damage for its size. 
The quake that hit when I went to get the newspaper was much closer. The Big Bear Earthquake—twenty miles to our east—was a magnitude 6.4. It was an aftershock of the Landers quake and occurred at 8:05 a.m. This earthquake caused a substantial amount of damage in the Big Bear area including landslides that blocked roads in the San Bernardino Mountains—much too close for comfort. 
They say that dogs can sense things that we cannot and earthquakes are one of them.  If I had not witnessed it with my own eyes, I probably would not have believed it. But I knew then and know now that Rommel sensed that earthquake coming and that is why he would not go out into the yard.  It was abnormal behavior for him.
The entire time we lived in Southern California I had many underlying concerns about Ed and his co-workers. They were working at heights of zero to eighty feet and if an earthquake hit while they were working, it could have been devastating. Thankfully, that never happened.  But it did add to my anxiety about the dangers of his job as falsework foreman on the heavy highway crew.
It is interesting though, thoughts of earthquakes were actually fleeting although we were living on a fault line.  Because the ground is so active in Southern California, we probably felt small tremors and quakes all of the time and never realized it. Fears usually only surfaced when a larger quake hit or aftershocks were felt.  Then there were a few days of uneasiness, and thoughts of will there be more?  Is the BIG ONE going to hit?
There were many days then, and when I have visited since, that I never even gave earthquakes a thought. Numerous times we were in situations like riding rides at Knott’s Berry Farm, Disneyland or Universal Studios, or high up on freeway overpasses—places I would not want to be when an earthquake hit—and the thought never crossed my mind. 
It is definitely strange how life goes on—it is that way for most things.  We are resilient and we do adapt no matter the situation.

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