22 years ago today I awoke early and abruptly, but familiarly. An earthquake was shaking my futon, and having recently moved from California, I knew exactly what it was. Strange though, I thought I had left those behind when I moved to Oregon. It was a light one, and I went back to sleep. But my phone rang. Students at the conservative Christian college who had never left Oregon were shaken and scared, bewildered by what had just happened, calling me as their residence director for answers or I-don't-know-what, support? It was Spring Break, and only a few were in the residence halls, but I calmed them down and explained it was a very small quake.
Having lived in California all my life, this "Spring Break Quake" was a wee one, in my books. My very first memory is of my mother chasing me around in my crib during an earthquake. My crib had wheels and the linoleum floor of my bedroom made the perfect racetrack for a wayward crib in the middle of the San Fernando Earthquake. That one, at 6.6, was a rocker, shaker and a roller, and we didn't live far from the epicenter. In my memory, I'm standing in my crib, holding on to the frame, and my mom in her nightgown is chasing after the crib as it rolls across the floor.
Duck and Cover was a familiar drill at school in earthquake preparation, instilling a fear of those big plate glass windows that gave us views of the Southern California sunshine and eucalyptus trees. At home, we ran to a nearby doorframe, most often awaken from sleep. If we weren't sure if it was an earthquake or not, I knew to look at a hanging light fixture to see if it was swaying: that was the tell-tale sign of an earthquake. After a rocker, dad would check the ceiling crack in the dining room to see if it had grown. I suppose it was our own personal richter scale.
In October of 1989, I was deep in the basement studios of the communication building at Chico State, working in an audio booth, manually slicing reel-to-reel for my radio production course. When I left my soundproof studio, the air felt tense in the hallways, and something had changed. I heard "earthquake" mentioned and knew it had been a large one. Most of my fellow students at Chico were from the Bay area, and the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 was a major one. For days, television news was constant and run from backup generators in the studios, the reporters wearing the same clothes and eventually becoming frazzled. Phonelines were down, and reaching family was difficult for many of the students. The quake was captured live on television during the World Series at Candlestick Park, and the images of the Bay Bridge buckled and warped will be forever in my mind. Aftershocks hit for quite sometime in the following months and years, waking me from my sleep with sharp jolts, and sometimes even rolls. My last California quake hit Ferndale in 1992, and even in Chico we felt it. Later that same year, I moved north to Portland, a land of moss, rain, thinking I had left the earthquakes of my first 25 years behind.
My first winter here, it snowed epic amounts, much to my surprise, and in the spring, the ground shook with a 5.6 earthquake. As I admired for the first time the giant magnolias blooming, I gazed up at brick chimneys crumbled by the quake. As daffodils and tulips bloomed in the vivid green environment I was newly experiencing, I saw the melding of my past and my present, and realized that the earthquakes had followed me. They will always be a part of my life.
Actually, experts are predicting that Oregon could experience an earthquake as bad as 9.0 and is overdue for a large quake. I've attended earthquake preparedness meetings in the neighborhood and I don't think anyone is as well prepared as we are, although that could be because I'm originally from California as well.
One of the things that I learned from the meetings was that the first thing that the fire dept. will do (and this was from a guy in the fire department) is drive around and assess damage- and that's all they'll do. If they see a burning building they'll note it but they'll drive right past it. So the first recommendation is get a fire extinguisher. I have two- one is next to my bed under my bedside table and the other is in the dining room between the kitchen and the barbecue grill. Gotta remember that what destroyed most of San Francisco in 1906 was not the earthquake but the subsequent fires.
Earthquakes must be incredibly frightening. So many people like to turn nature into a malevolent force. I prefer your attitude, educate yourself and be prepared.
My own experience is so close to yours. I grew up in Los Angeles and left for Oregon in 1978 for many reasons, but one of them was to get away from earthquakes. Less than a month after my arrival to Portland, Mt. St. Helens went off. With resultant aftershocks. Even so, Oregon is My Place.
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