Southern California has experienced several moderate earthquakes in the past few weeks (4.1-5.1 on the Richter scale).
During my 16 years in L.A., I experienced hundreds of earthquakes. Most of them were either pre-shocks or after-shocks measuring well below 3.0 on the Richter scale. At that intensity, you feel them on a subliminal level that seems to merge with all the other energy and events that bombard you in a city without pause.
It got to the point where, if something as dramatic as a 4.0 should happen to stir my senses, I might casually look up from the newspaper I was reading and calmly predict to my wife, within a tenth of a point, whether it was a 3.9 or a 4.1.
That’s just how Californians are about earthquakes. It just goes with the territory.
A year or so before I left California, my feelings about earthquakes changed when I was spooked and spooked badly. I was in bed about 5:30 a.m. when I woke up and it dawned on me I was in the middle of an earthquake. A big one.
The walls were vibrating and rumbling loudly. As I stepped out of the bed, the floor was sliding out from under me. Without any waking time to gather my thoughts into my usual casual attitude about such events, I felt a cold panic race through my body.
I put on a bathrobe and walked to the front door and, all that time, the earthquake still had the world around me in a full chop and blend. I stepped into the cold desert air, worrying less about falling telephone poles than my apartment building collapsing around me.
That last early-morning earthquake I went through turned out to be only a 5.5, but the feeling of being caught at such a vulnerable moment never quite left me. When the 7.1 Northridge earthquake struck California shortly after our move to Florida, my wife and I hugged each other and felt blessed that we had the sense to get out when we did.
So here we are in the land of hurricanes. They’re not a good thing, either, but at least there is a warning when one is heading your way. There’s time to prepare mentally and emotionally. That’s a big thing. A hurricane is like hearing about a rash of burglaries in your neighborhood and having time to get your defenses up, whereas an earthquake is like suddenly getting violently mugged from behind out of nowhere.
If I had to make a choice of a disaster – and we’ve all seen that every part of the country has it’s own versions from twisters to deep freeze blizzards to floods and mudslides – I’ll take a hurricane over an earthquake any day. We have time to think about what’s going to happen, how we’re going to prepare for it and what we need to save – and even what our plans might be should we need to rebuild.
And, if we happen to first hear about one at 5:30 in the morning, there’s plenty of time to make coffee and read the newspaper. “Oh, look, it’s a category 3 and should be here by… Thursday, next week.”