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
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
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
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
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:
(They call it the "Kern County" quake. But it's the Tehachapi.)
And now in the wake of Norcia, we have
(*All essays about earthquakes have to
use the word temblor at some point. I think it may be statutory.)