Many years ago I relocated from my birth city of Boston, Massachusetts to Los Angeles, California. While I have never regretted that decision one of the things I had to get used to was earthquakes. If you’ve never experienced a quake, there is no true way to describe it. There are descriptions that come close, in certain ways, like a big truck going by. But honestly nothing can prepare you for a true shaker.
The first earthquake I experienced—many years ago in 1987—was a 5.9 quake called the Whittier Narrows quake. I was in my apartment in Hollywood at the time and had little idea of what was happening. I grabbed my cat and ran from room to room, unsure what to do. Fortunately it stopped, leaving my apartment none the worse for wear. The same cannot be said of my nerves. For weeks afterward every little bump or jolt made me freeze thinking “is that a quake?”
You don’t really forget your first good sized quake, but you do tend to tuck it in the back of your mind and go about the business of living…until the next big one. That one was the Northridge quake, which was a 6.4 quake only about twenty miles away from where I was living. Let me tell you, that thing MOVED the apartment and it was LOUD! To make matters worse, I had bookshelves in my bedroom at the time and they all crashed down across the foot of my bed. When I saw the unpainted top of my black shelves I thought the roof was caving in and that I was done for. Fortunately it was just my shelves and not the roof and I survived, shaken and terrified, but alive.
When I moved to my house a few months later I adjusted to something new, which was experiencing earthquakes in a relatively flat part of the city. Due to the fact that I bought the house a few months after the Northridge quake we were still having a fair number of aftershocks. The thing that I didn’t understand was that I heard them coming. If a quake, even a small one, is nearby I will hear this rumbling sound before the quake hits. Or, as I describe it, I hear rumble rumble RUMBLE—then the actual quake— shake shake shake shake shake—followed by rumble rumble rumble as it dies away, heading out from my residence.
It’s one of my barometers for the nearness or distance of a quake. The ones we had in Los Angeles over the July 4th weekend were 150 miles from where I live and while they rolled something fierce, there was no preceding or following rumble. It was still no fun to have the house rock and roll, and it scared the cats something fierce. We were fortunate that the quake was as far away as it was—a 7.1 in the same location as the Northridge quake would have done a lot of damage to the city. That’s the big doom scenario, having a large quake along one of the fault lines right under the city, not out in the desert where there is some, but relatively speaking, not much damage.
Some people may wonder why we choose to live in Los Angeles, given the instability of the ground. But I think there are downsides to anywhere. Where I grew up in Massachusetts has blizzards, Florida has hurricanes, as does Texas, and of course there are tornados throughout much of the United States. The difference between a hurricane and an earthquake is that you know when a hurricane is coming, but the outcome is similar. It’s really a question of what sort of natural disaster you are comfortable with. Just as people prepare for a hurricane, so we too can prepare for a quake by having supplies laid in and an action plan in case of disaster. Our buildings are, for the most part, reinforced to mitigate the damage. It’s a risk, sure, but living anywhere has its down side. Me, I’ll take the beautiful weather and studio job and lay in supplies. There’s a certain pleasure in not knowing when the disaster will come and therefore leaving it in the hands of something greater than myself to determine the timing.
Hmm…that sounds like a plot thread waiting to be explored! In the meantime, stay safe, wherever you are!