In February of 1971, I thought my brother was shaking my bed to wake me up. We were supposed to register for our college classes in the new semester, but I thought he was being excessive in his attempt to get me out of bed. I turned to look up at him, raring to tell him what I planned to do to his skinny little sprinters body when I got out of bed. Rather than seeing him shaking, it was the walls of my bedroom doing a rumba to the notes provided by the 1971 Sylmar earthquake.
It was my first major earthquake and it featured a rolling action that only those who go through a 6.5 earthquake would understand, especially when the epicenter was only about 12 miles from where we lived. I was nearing my 21st birthday, had the bloated muscles of a shot-putter/discus/hammer thrower and was certainly not supposed to fear man nor beast…which I didn’t. However, that stinkin’ earthquake was unlike any living thing I would ever encounter.
Eventually, like so many other things in our lives, the fear fades and we only remember the snippets of the event. Snippets never portray the magnitude of the event itself.
Then came 1994.
Rather than being near the epicenter, this time we were the epicenter. The devastating Northridge quake, a bloated 6.7 magnitude with an ungodly noise, was virtually under my 2 story Northridge home. There was no doubt that my family and a visiting friend of my children, were going to die; crushed from the weight of the roof caving in from above while our second story bedrooms collapsed to the ground floor.
When the initial quake ended, there was still an “upstairs” and the roof had not collapsed. None of us were injured.
We scrambled to get out of the bedrooms, down the stairs and out the front door. While we were still upstairs my children were running in the darkness to meet us so we could go down the stairs together. Since our bedroom was at the top of the stairs, my wife shined a flashlight down the hall to help them see where they were going as they approached us. They arrived in the middle of the hall just as it was illuminated, causing them to immediately stop and saving themselves from the pain of crashing into a 75 gallon water heater that had crashed through the wall and was spilling its contents in the hall and thorough the floor.
Through the floor means that it was flooding the kitchen below. When the water heater decided to lie down, it also ripped off the water hoses and the gas line. The two heating/air conditioning units in the attic (who had never shown any propensity to move around in their long-time home) decided to show the water heater what kind of mischief they were capable of. They pranced right off their platforms, removing the shackles of their huge gas lines.
They had joined their leaking gas with the water heater’s as the searched for a friendly spark capable of making the night more exciting.
We had enjoyed the 2 fireplaces in our house. For some reason, the chimney of each fireplace did not enjoy us, so in spite of their supposed adherence to building codes, they decided to run from our house by tearing themselves off the exterior wall they had been attached to for 7 years.
“Oh”, you say, “how could this be? What about the code requirements? Aren’t those rebellious chimneys supposed to be attached inside the walls and ceiling by iron straps?”
Yes. They not only were supposed to be connected-- they were! The magnitude of the quake merely allowed each chimney to lean away from the house…while the safety straps bent downward and tore through the ceilings in each room with a fireplace.
Chimney bricks and block walls are cousins. They are friendly enough to try and help each other escape the boredom of domestic living. When the chimneys leaned outward they whispered to the block wall below that escape from their bland existence was now possible!
“Run for the hills,” they shouted to their cousins.
Well, blocks are populated by... blocks, not sprinters. They have no knowledge of mass-specific force. They never purposely dorsiflex when they run. Therefore, all 450 linear feet (6 feet tall) decided that taking a rest was easier than running off to some unknown household. So they lay down to get in a quick nap, not realizing that none had been deadlifting. For them, lack of strength to rise up was going to be a difficult issue.
Why all the “nonsense” above?
Well, today we had a 5.4 quake about 30 miles from where I live now. It was far enough away and weak enough in magnitude to give our current abode only a bit of a shake-up. Rattle a few windows, swing some hanging lamps and make our dog queasy.
But it scared me.
The Northridge earthquake did that.
Why do we stay here? Don’t know; we just do. Family, friends, good memories of fun times are here too.
I suppose it’s for the same reason why others live in flood areas, tornado alleys, places where tidal wave and hurricane warnings are part of daily life.
It took about an hour to get that sick feeling out of my stomach.
Today was my birthday. No one should have their birthday on the day of an earthquake.
I hate earthquakes.