EARTHQUAKES — EASIER TO SURVIVE THAN HURRICANES By Victoria Giraud

 
Kaiser Permanente building after the quake

If you want to avoid Mother Nature and all disasters, I’m afraid there’s no help for you! Listening to the warnings about Hurricane Sandy and the destruction it’s already caused, and news of a recent earthquake in the Pacific near Canada, reminds me of the earthquakes I’ve experienced. Before I leave the planet, I imagine I’ll experience more of them and who knows what else! I’d definitely pick an earthquake over other disasters, but do we have a choice? If earthquake fear keeps the California population from growing too much, that’s great. Since all places on earth have their positive and negative features, I’d still choose California as the best place to live.

In February 1971, my husband, toddler daughter, Heidi, and I were living on the outskirts of Los Angeles when the Sylmar earthquake, measured at 6.6 magnitude and centered about 15 miles away from us, occurred. It was 6:55 a.m. in the morning and the quake woke us up as our second-floor bedroom swayed and the windows rattled. It took years for my daughter to forget her fears stimulated by rattling windows.

I remember listening to the radio next to the bed as a frightened announcer reported from Parker Center, the old LAPD building, the details of what had happened in downtown Los Angeles. Though exciting and nerve-racking, we suffered no damage. Others were not as lucky. The Newhall Pass freeway interchange was heavily damaged as was Olive View Hospital in the San Fernando Valley. Sixty-five people died as a result of the earthquake.

Twenty-three years later, the 1994 earthquake on January 17 was far more destructive and “exciting.” The 6.7 trembler occurred on Martin Luther King’s birthday celebration day. Was he trying to tell us something?

I was living in Agoura as in 1971, but this time sharing a girlfriend’s  home in the hills. As I learned later, her house had been built on cut, not fill, and that was the important factor in damage control. Susan was away for the weekend with her boyfriend, I was home in my waterbed, and Callahan, her Siberian Husky dog, was sleeping outside. I had stayed up late reading a book, You Don’t Die, the fascinating account of a man who communicated with spirits that had messages for the living. Curious choice of reading material considering what happened later!

At 4:31 a.m. I began my “ride” on the waves of my waterbed as the ground seemed to roll and move up and down. I didn’t panic but noted that the wind chimes outside my window were melodiously announcing nature’s fury. I could hear the books slip off my nearby bookcase and fling themselves on the floor; I was thankful I had removed the bookshelves over the head of my bed when I moved in! It was still dark and I wondered if this quake was “the big one” newscasters were always predicting.

When it stopped, I got up and turned on the light. The TV and the VCR had moved forward on their glass shelf but had not fallen. Before I could do anything, the lights went off completely, and I got on the floor to feel around for a flashlight I had put there the night before when the bathroom night light had burned out. I couldn’t find the flashlight but I found my glasses (I wore contacts during the day) among the books and papers on the floor and desk. It’s amazing how disorienting it can be in the complete darkness.

I was consciously keeping a cool head, but my stomach was churning from fears of what might happen next. First things first, however: I had to pee!  I put on my robe, even though no one was home, and felt my way to the hallway bathroom around the corner. I missed it, despite feeling along the wall (or thinking I had) and ended up in the family room. I backtracked and finally found the open door. For once, I didn’t think about flushing!

Back in my room, I found the flashlight but it was inadequate and I remembered I had a candle and matches handy, which would be enough to find clothes to wear and determine what to do next. I inspected for damage and found that nothing had broken, even my cherished Monarch butterfly under the little glass dome was intact.

My watch said 4:45 a.m. when I left my room to check the rest of the house. I discovered an adequate flashlight as I explored with my candle. A few glasses from the bar in the family room had fallen to the floor and broken. The bottle of Ancient Age bourbon “bit the dust” – no alcoholic solace there.   Unlike in so many other homes, as I found out later, the cabinet doors and the refrigerator in the kitchen had stayed closed, but a framed picture had fallen, and I cut my fingers a little from picking up the glass.

I opened the patio doors and let in a worried dog that was delighted to see me. In Susan’s bedroom the drawers on her dresser and TV cabinet had come open but nothing was seriously damaged. I remembered I had a portable radio and retrieved it to listed to KFWB. They announced the quake measured 6.7 on the Richter scale and was centered in the San Fernando Valley somewhere. The phone seemed to work but no one answered when I called my children, who at that time were already grown and rooming together in an apartment probably 20 miles away.

Since I hadn’t been living at Susan’s that long, I didn’t know her neighbors and didn’t think about going outside to see what had happened. I sat in the family room and listened to radio reports of the earthquake horrors.

At 5:45 a.m. I heard a knock at the front door—it was my kids. They had hopped in a car and driven to check on me. It was spooky, they said, to drive the freeway in complete darkness—no streetlights, traffic signals, house lights, etc. Hansi said his aquarium and fish were fine but he’d lost his entire bottle collection.

I’d remembered to buy bread the evening before and we sat down to bread and jelly, which was delicious! Why is it we appreciate the most simple things when the situation is dangerous?

To be continued…

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