Friday, October 17, 2014

Happy (?) Anniversary, SF Quake

25 years ago today was the Loma Prieta earthquake--the one that happened just before a  game of the World Series that pitted two SF Bay Area baseball teams against one another. A lot of the US learned of the quake from being tuned in to the pre-game show. Al Michaels: "I'll tell you what, we're having an earth--" and the transmission stopped. A friend of mine, watching that, reported that his friend said, "What? What's an 'earth?'" And my friend, a former Californian, couldn't help but laugh; he knew.

I was in a car in the East Bay and did not feel it. You had to be darned close to the epicenter to feel it in a moving car. Santa Cruz county residents later told me stories of pulling over to check their "flat tire," and then noticing everyone else seemed to have a flat tire, too--by that time the shaking was over but, being Californians, they figured it out pretty quickly. I felt nothing until the car hit a chunk of collapsed roadway a half-hour later and my teeth clacked together as the car bottomed out. (That section of road was closed an hour later and stayed closed for months.) I began to get suspicious about the lack of lights--either fog had really socked in the area ahead of me, or something was wrong. The car radio told me what.

The Bay Bridge was broken, so getting to my flat in the city required a strange route home, but I got there before three hours had passed. Everything on the north and south walls had fallen down, and kitchen drawers on those walls had shaken themselves open. The pets weren't sure they were ever coming out from under the bed, thank you very much, but once I knew they were alive, I felt calmed. (Food soon convinced them it was a good idea to rejoin society.) Cleaning up would have to wait for lights, power, and the next day.

One of the worst thoughts in a ~7.0 quake is "maybe that was just the foreshock." It's not a happy thought as tiny tremors keep rattling your home--and I have to say, that was the worst bit of trauma I experienced, and it really doesn't qualify as trauma...just edginess that faded over the months.

If you were alive and watched TV news about the event, you'd have thought that the city burned for days. A part of one block burned for a couple hours, and yet the same image was replayed steadily to scare viewers, keep them glued to the set, and hey, now it's commercial break, and come and buy this piece of junk you don't really need while your emotions are overriding your logic. Our collective awareness of the manipulations of "news" changed in The City that week. News is new--and perhaps useful--for a few hours; after that, it's too much speculation and subtle lies. We were back at work, everyone had power, everything was picked up but the wrecked highways, and according to the news, we were still in the midst of an active disaster.

The Oakland highway collapse was nasty, and it accounted for most of the deaths. The benefit to that is highways are designed differently now (small comfort to relatives of the victims, I'm sure). A 9.0 would still take several down, but for the most part, you can drive with more confidence on California's highways than on highways anywhere else--though Japan's are at least as well-built.
Cypress freeway 10/19/1989

I learned two small but useful lessons: bolt your bookcases and china/curio cases to the wall studs, and get earthquake museum gel for your breakables, an easy ounce of prevention. If you live anywhere on planet Earth, you can experience a quake. If you live in the New Madrid Seismic Zone, California, Alaska, Japan, New Zealand, you'd be wise to be well-prepared...and to trade in your brick home for a frame one, ASAP. Seriously, brick is a bad, bad building idea for earthquake zones. Remember, 63 people died in the Loma Prieta quake; over 100,000 died in a quake of the same magnitude in Haiti. Buildings are what kill people in quakes.

In most ways, I'm glad I had that experience. It certainly helped me to make my earthquake novel more realistic. My worst trauma today is seeing it is 25 years ago--man, that means I'm getting old! ;) I hope to be around to talk about it again at the 50th anniversary.

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