Exploring Oregon 2009

Exploring Oregon 2009

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Having grown up in Southern California, I experienced my fair share of earthquakes, and they have all left their impact on my life.

The first earthquake I recall experiencing, I had to be somewhere between 3 and 5 years old. I can remember awaking to an eerie sound as my mother pulled me from my bed by the arm. I had no idea what was happening, but I clearly remember her looking very frightened, and she was moving at what seemed to be the speed of light. I don't recall my feet ever hitting the floor from the moment she grabbed me, and continued on into my sister's bedroom. She snatched my sister up and out of the crib, and then stood there for a moment, trying to decide what to do next. The earth stopped moving just seconds after we reached my sister's room. It was over as quickly as it had begun. That was the night that I learned how angry and unpredictable this world of ours can be.

That night taught me what to expect from an earthquake, and subsequent years of earthquake safety lessons taught me how best to survive. They teach you at a young age that you need to get under something sturdy to protect you from items falling around you. I learned that you don't want to go running through the house, and out the door, you just want to get somewhere where you will be protected. I learned that doorways, with all the extra framing around them, are one of the safer places you could be if the building you're in starts crumbling around you. These lessons became engrained in me, to the point where I acted on instinct before I really even comprehended what was happening. I learned that the eerie sound I heard that first night always precedes the shaking by a couple seconds. Yes, you can hear an earthquake coming just moments before it hits. I learned to fear that sound, to the point where it would wake me from a dead sleep and I would be in my bedroom door before the shaking began, and before my mom could even open her bedroom door. The angry, unpredictable world had me well trained.

I am writing this blog on nearly 16 years to date from the scariest night of my life. January 17, 1994. 4:31am. 20 seconds of terror that has been forever etched into my memory, commonly known as 'The Northridge Earthquake.' Up until Hurricane Katrina, it had been the costliest natural disaster in the U.S. It measured a notable 6.7 on the Richter scale, but it wasn't the sheer size of this quake that made it infamous, but the accelerated ground motion. Rather than the ground shaking from side to side, as typical for earthquakes in that area, it seemed to almost 'jump' straight up and down. This caused structural failures that no one was prepared for. Interstate overpasses collapsed, parking garages bent and buckled, hillsides gave way, water and gas lines exploded. Luckily, because of the early hour of the quake and the fact that it was a national holiday, people were not on the roads, in the parking garages, or at their offices...they were at home in bed. This translated into very little loss of life, but billions of dollars in destruction.

Watching now, the images of the destruction in Haiti, I can barely even begin to understand what they are feeling, even having gone through an earthquake of similar magnitude. They don't have the stringent building codes to withstand the forces placed upon them while the ground moved beneath them. They simply crumbled down, submitting mercilessly to the violent shaking. I remember during the Northridge Earthquake, the horrific sounds of glass breaking and everything falling around you, but that can't even hold a candle to experiencing everything coming down on you, and after what seems like an eternity of shaking, everything going quiet and the only sounds to be heard are the moans and screams of the people around you. If you are lucky enough to walk away from it all, then what do you do? No home, no food, no water, and some left without a single other living family member.

The images of the aftermath are something out of one of Hollywood's 'End of the World' disaster movies. Ruins everywhere you look, people huddled in masses with nothing but some sheets and sticks for shelter, dozens of unidentified dead bodies lining the roads. It is nothing short of a real life nightmare. There are hundreds of millions of dollars in aid being rushed to the island in the form of food, water and rescue workers being sent from all corners of our planet. It's unfortunate that it takes events of this nature to bring the various countries together, in a combined relief effort, but is refreshing to see. There is still some good left in humanity.

My question is how does this unfortunate, poverty stricken country pick themselves up, dust off, and begin again? They don't have earthquake insurance, nor do they have enough money stored away in their savings account to build again. I've heard that the silver lining to this dismal and dark rain cloud is that this creates an opportunity for Haiti to start with a clean slate. This time, they can build their structures to better withstand these angry, unexpected outbursts from our beloved planet. We shall hope and wait, with bated breath, that this unfortunate incident will lead to a better and brighter tomorrow for the people of Haiti.

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