Monday, November 15, 2010


We here in Southern California are overdue for a big earthquake. Not that we’ve missed them or anything like that. It’s just that we’ve gone a long time without a major quake. And we, Jerry and I personally, have become very lax in our preparation for it.

In 1971 we felt the 6.6 quake centered in the San Fernando Valley. We lived some 70 miles from the epicenter and it nearly shook us out of our beds. The old two story wooden house creaked something fierce, but nothing was damaged. It just scared the daylights out of us.

In 1987 we felt a 5.9 quake, not nearly as bad as the previous one but still it was a good-sized shaker. I was at work and the kids were at school. We were about 30 miles from the epicenter on this one and while I simply sat at my desk during the shaking, most of the employees ran out into the yard. The only ones left in the building were the native Californians.

Jer and I were living in Turkey during the big Landers quake in 1992, the biggest of any in my lifetime at 7.3. The only reason that one did so little damage is that the epicenter was in the desert.

And finally in 1994, about a year after we returned from Turkey, the big 6.7 Northridge earthquake hit about four in the morning. Again, we were about 70 miles from the epicenter. Our house, again an old wooden house but single story this time, made a terrible noise, and shook the bejabbers out of us. Jer and I jumped out of bed; his assigned job was to hold up the china cabinet; mine was to hold up the curio cabinet. Our plan worked like clockwork, except that our little dog ran around the house barking, barking, barking, adding to the confusion. We knew this was a big and a bad one.

Except for a few minor shakers, we haven’t had a big one since then, and we are truly overdue.

Jer and I have always tried to be prepared. At our home in Orange we had large tin barrels filled with what we needed to survive for a couple of weeks without utilities, food, and the like. We rotated our blood pressure pills into and out of the barrels to make sure the pills would be efficacious in the event we needed to use them. I had a suitcase in the trunk of my car filled with a change of clothes and comfortable walking shoes just in case an earthquake tore down the bridge between my house and my office; I certainly couldn’t walk home in high heeled shoes. We put a wrench near the gas shutoff valve outside the house.

Since we’ve retired we’ve actually grown fairly lax about our “earthquake preparedness” kit. We keep a flashlight and hard-soled shoes next to our beds. In the event a big shake breaks windows and knocks over mirrors and curio cabinets, we need to have shoes handy so we can walk through debris. We are in single story apartments which are unlikely to collapse so we figure we can get to our pills if necessary. We always keep a big supply of water on hand. I did decide a few months back that I really should get a hand-operated can opener; our electric can opener might not work.

Today’s little project is to retrieve the suitcase from my car and replenish it with clothes that will fit me now. I am shorter and skinnier now than I was when I made up that suitcase and I need to be especially sure that the denim pants I have in there will stay up if I need to use them. If not, I’d better put a belt in the suitcase too!

The one thing that really concerns me is that every Californian is advised to keep a wrench near the gas meter so in the event the gas lines break we can turn off the gas coming to our residence. We have about 99 buildings, each with between 11 and 12individual apartments. However, here in this apartment complex we don’t have access to those lines, and very honestly there is not enough staff on site to run around and turn them off in an emergency -- earthquake or otherwise. Probably a call to the gas company would help us clarify just what, if anything, we can do if such an emergency came up. Our biggest threat here, I believe would be fire from the broken gas lines.

One hates to think of such things, but a big earthquake is not just in the realm of “possibility” but is definitely going to happen. We’re overdue. Jer and I once again need to get smart about this.

Now after all this let me tell you a truism. I would rather any day live in California with the threat of an earthquake hanging over my head than live in the Midwest having to think about tornados!


Anonymous said...

Hi Bobby--It's Pauline! I didn't read this blog because this subject is my most unfavorite. I just want you to know I'm using a computer and wanted to surprise you, so let me know if you get this comment. Can't send you an e.mail 'cause I don't have your e.mail address. (The surprise thing!)

marciamayo said...

Yep, Bobby, we all have some kind of natural disaster to worry about. Growing up on the Georgia coast, I was scared to death of hurricanes. Now, in Atlanta, we have tornadoes from time to time. You are right to be prepared and then just go on living your life.

Arlene said...

1987--The only ones left in the building were the native Californians.

That sounds about right. During the 1987 quake, I was a graduate student working in a second floor lab at UC Davis.

We had a pretty good shake and I, having grown up in CA, said to myself: Hmm, an earthquake. Looked around and everyone else was leaving. I stayed and continued with what I was doing. I can remember earthquakes when I was a child. My brothers and I would jump around and say: "Oh Yay! It's an earthquake!"
My attitude is a bit different now, and I think you would be smart to contact the Gas Company about the gas lines.

Olga said...

Don't try to stare down Mother Nature, for sure.