Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Here in Southern California, we just had another earthquake. It was a respectable size, a 5.4, but far enough away (Chino Hills) that there was no physical damage around here, just northwest of Los Angeles. Still, it lasted about 20 seconds with lots of swaying, long enough for me to consider installing seat belts in my couch.

It's hard to explain earthquakes to people who've never witnessed them. We tend to take for granted that the ground below us is solid, unmoving. You should never ever feel that your living room floor has a tide rolling underneath it, or see telephone poles sway like masts on a boat, or ponder that the concrete foundation under your house is essentially dirt pudding.
There are different kinds of quakes, each with its own personality. The Northridge quake, in my opinion, was the nastiest, most vile beast ever belched from the bowels of the earth. It was a shallow, sharp shaker, much like ice cracking quickly across the surface of a pond.

For the uninitiated, imagine Cerberus, three-headed dog from Hell, grabbing you by the ankles and smacking you around like a chew toy. Imagine, as you're flipped about, that you hear your building creaking and quivering loudly, calling out to you, each nail in the timbers groaning as it's torn from its resting place.

Then it stops. Then it starts again. Then every few hours, or days, it sends you a shivery reminder of what happened, until you're absolutely sick of picking up shards of broken potted plants, and you naturally avoid standing near the armoire for any length of time, lest it fall over again. This is also the kind of event that makes you sleep fully clothed, zip quickly beneath freeway underpasses, and seriously consider donning a hard hat in your work cubicle.

The one we just had was a far cry from Northridge. It was a bit deeper in the ground, one tectonic plate greasily wiggling past the other. Kate Hutton, spokesperson eternal for CalTech, our local earthquake guru-center, called it an "oblique flip on a thrust fault." While it sounds like an Olympic-level move on the pommel horse, it's actually a good thing. Keep those plates sliding - it's like a bran muffin for dear ol' San Andreas. If something gets stuck, there could be trouble.

We're now in the post-strike mode, when bands of roving 'live' reporters wander the hills in search of chaos and ruin, pausing beside any misplaced cinder block to inquire whether it is 'quake-related' damage. We're also vulnerable to any burp of noise being considered an aftershock. The anticipation of the next jiggle is nearly as bad as the main event.

Why, do you ask, do we live here? First of all, it's rather rude to ask such a question at a time like this. Our nerves have just rattled right along with the china cabinet. Secondly, I'm in no mental condition to be thinking logically about such things. Third, check in with us in January, when you're shovelling snow while we're wearing t-shirts and shorts (and seat belts) at the Rose Parade.


ScottMGS said...

"Dirt pudding" - I love it! I actually didn't feel it but the guy in the next cube did - he was on the phone with a co-worker in Temecula.

AuntieM said...

Sounds scary. In Virginia we hardly get them. I was home sick one day when we did have one. It was a tiny baby earthquake that lasted for about 5 seconds. To be honest, I wasn't sure if I was just hallucinating from illness or if I'd just experienced my first one. Frankly, I don't want to repeat the experience. At least your home is probably designed to hold up better than mine would.

Annie said...

auntiem - the big buildings out here are on rollers. After a big one, they're roll like ships on the ocean for a couple of minutes to disperse the energy of the quake. Even though you're quite safe in a building like that, the rolling can make you seasick. Very odd feeling.
At least we're somewhat prepared. The people along the New Madrid fault in the Midwest are overdue to get hammered with a big one, and they are far from ready.

WriterDude said...

That's one big reason I'm no longer in Missouri, Annie. That, and the need to escape Fianceezila.

WriterDude said...

BTW, did you happen to listen to Jim Ladd on KLOS the night of the quake? Boy, did he have some fun with it. Lester and I were listening online (of course), and I correctly predicted that he'd start the show with Jerry Lee Lewis. Lord have mercy! ;-)

Annie said...

Nope - missed Jim Ladd. I was trying to forget about the shaker right before bed or I'd never get to sleep. Earthquake anxiety is the worse - the dog so much as passes gas and it's an 'aftershock.' But I love Jerry Lee's stuff.