Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Earthquakes I Have Known

Ever since the destruction began last August I've been following news about the earthquakes in Norcia, principally Hilary's blogs, the bulletins from the monks, and assorted Italian sites with the help of translategoogle.com and www.freetranslation.com/ (Literalism isn't all it's cracked up to be; what's really needed is a translation service that does dynamic equivalence, if you'll pardon the phrase.)

We've sent prayers and a few bucks. And we ourselves have finally gotten something we've never had before, even living as we do 4 or 5 miles from one of the San Andreas fault's tributaries. We now have earthquake insurance. It's not great insurance. It doesn't cover everything, the deductible is rather high, and the premium is higher than we'd like. But if the house is flattened -- and we survive -- it'll be something to carry on with.

This is from Google maps and if you're using the Opera browser you can click on it and make it gigantic:

What you're looking at is 7th Street in Long Beach CA. The V.A. hospital is on the left and there's a shopping center on the right. You see how 7th Street is on one level and the CVS pharmacy drops down to a lower level? That's the fault line. I could probably drive there in 10 or 15 minutes depending on the traffic.

I rather enjoyed my first earthquake. That was the Tehachapi quake. I was four. It woke me up and bounced the bed around the room. I was delighted. I had no idea the bed could do that. When my mother rushed into the room to comfort me I asked when it would happen again. She assured me that it was all over now. You can imagine my disappointment. A ride like that on the mechanical horse at the supermarket cost a nickel. Nickels didn't come easy to four-year-olds in 1952.  This ride was free.

My grandfather's reaction was slightly different than mine but still became part of family legend. When my aunt ran into his room with "Oh, dad, dad, it's an earthquake!" his response was "Thank God. I thought it was a heart-attack."

In any event, my mother was wrong. It wasn't all over for good. There were aftershocks. Once again, I was in bed for the next big one. And now I wouldn't get up. My mother thought I was too afraid to get up. But, in fact, I now believed that, much like Santa Claus, the earthquakes wouldn't come unless I was in bed. I did get up eventually, albeit reluctantly, and life went on.

As did earthquakes in southern California. The next one I really remember was the Sylmar quake. By now I was in my 20s and no longer quite so sanguine about earthquakes. In my 20's indeed, but once again in bed. I remember being awakened -- or half awakened -- and looking up at the Grundig Satellit

on my headboard and thinking "If that falls on my head, it is really going to hurt." And then, rather than moving, I closed my eyes.

Yes, older but not appreciably wiser. At least not when half asleep. To be sure, it did not fall but the reasonable and prudent man really should have gotten out of the way.

 The picture below was in the Times the next day and gave me a dislike for driving under freeway overpasses that remains to this day.

The epicenter of the Whittier Narrows quake was probably the closest to our home. It happened when I was on my way to work. I was driving over a bridge across the L.A. River at the time and thought I had a flat tire. I got out to look and noticed that the entire lane of traffic thought the same thing. We had all got out to check our tires. At which point we all seemed to notice at the same time that the street lamps were still swaying. There was nothing else to do but continue on. And get off that bridge. The power was out here and there as were the traffic lights so it took a while longer to get to work. Memory says that we were sent home that day so they could check the structural integrity of the building. But I may be mistaking that for the Northridge quake a few years later.

Two things I do remember about the Northridge quake. The first was the impeccable good taste of that particular quake. Mary had -- still has -- quite a bit of Waterford. (Her father knew Somebody and got a really good deal on it.) But the quake didn't disturb any of it. All sorts of the cheap stuff, jelly glasses and dimestore stuff, went crashing down on the kitchen floor. It took a good while to get it all cleaned up. But none of the Waterford ever budged.

The other thing I remember about Northridge was that the home of a woman I worked with was damaged and red tagged. (Or was it yellow tagged? It was whichever of those means you can't go back in.) Well, she didn't want to sleep on a cot in a school gymnasium for who knows how long and she couldn't afford a hotel for the aforesaid who-knows-how-long. So we found out later that what she did was park her car in the street behind her house, walk through the adjoining back yard, and in through her own untagged and untaped back door to spend the night in her own house. I don't remember how that all worked out in the end but she apparently got away with it for a good long time.

We've had a few since but those were the really memorable ones. There was one out in the desert somewhere that we only got the tail end of.  I think I was working on the 18th floor then in the old Transamerica Centre. That building was the first of L.A.'s high rises and the builders had earthquakes in mind when it was built. Rollers are part of its foundation. (No, I don't know how that works either. But that's how it was explained to me.) We were far enough away from the center that we didn't feel a great jolt but it did start the building to swaying. Which it continued to do for quite some time . . . long after the actual earthquake had stopped. It was a very gentle sway but a few folks got quite nauseous.

Should you have an interest -- and you might if you read this far -- all of these temblors* have their own webpages thanks to Wikipedia:

Tehachapi  (They call it the "Kern County" quake.  But it's the Tehachapi.)

And now in the wake of Norcia, we have earthquake insurance.

(*All essays about earthquakes have to use the word temblor at some point. I think it may be statutory.)