June 4, 2013 — Shortly after school started Friday, May 24, the students at Fletcher Walker Elementary went through an earthquake drill. I happened to be at the school for a previously scheduled interview, so I watched as everyone ducked under desks.
Ducking under something sturdy would have been a good move the night before when the 5.7 magnitude earthquake struck at 8:47 p.m. I was standing in the kitchen and my husband, Terry, was in the carport. My first thought was that Terry did something outside that jarred the house, but as the floor, countertops and ceiling began to sway and the rumbling increased in volume, I knew we were in the midst of an earthquake. Truthfully, it did not dawn on me to take cover although I could have dropped to the floor and crawled under the table. My husband said he walked out from under the carport into the yard. Smarter reaction, but he has lived in many places where earthquakes are more prevalent such as the Bay Area and near Eureka.
Listening to people recount what they were doing when the earth began to shake has shown me my reaction was not uncommon. One friend said she thought something had hit the house — yes. Another friend said her daughter was riding in a car with another person and accused the driver of swerving all over the road. Placing the blame on someone nearby? — Yes.
The unusual aspect of an earthquake versus another natural disaster is its suddenness. Tornadoes, hurricanes and wildfires all provide warning but an earthquake strikes quickly. One minute I was getting ready to dish up ice cream in the kitchen and the next the house was shaking. The earthquake was long enough to allow time for many thoughts to cross my mind, including wondering when it might stop.
Probably, for the rest of my life, I will remember what I was doing when the moderate earthquake struck. On Oct. 17, 1989 I was working on a manuscript in my study at 5 p.m., and Terry was getting ready to watch the World Series when he hollered up the stairs there had been an earthquake in San Francisco. At first I thought he was joking. When I joined him in front of the TV I realized it was no joke and a 6.9 magnitude quake had caused a lot of damage.
While many may think of California as the most earthquake-prone state, it is not. Alaska has a magnitude 7 earthquake nearly every year and every 14 years a quake of magnitude 8 or greater. (earthquake.usgs.gov).
Also, it was in Prince William Sound, Alaska where the largest recorded earthquake in the United States struck on March 28, 1964 — not the Great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. The Alaska earthquake’s magnitude was 9.2. I read on the Internet a magnitude 8 earthquake releases as much energy as 6 million tons of TNT exploding.
Thankfully there was not much damage in Westwood May 23. A few flowerpots toppled from a shelf in my garage and broke. Terry watched a few bricks break off the chimney of an old house next door, which is not occupied. A friend said her rug was soaked when the water in her big fish tank sloshed. She added that the fish liked the ocean-like experience.
If there is a next time I will be better prepared, like the children at Fletcher Walker Elementary who practice what to do so it is second nature.
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