Monday, December 22, 2003

News from the periphery of the earthquake

At about 11:20 I felt the earth move, twice. I stood up from my desk, where I was editing my website, and glanced around quickly to see if anything was falling or swaying. Nothing. After a few more seconds trying to see if the quake was over and trying to decide if I should stand in a doorway or get under a table or go outside, I realized I probably didn't need to do anything to protect myself since the shaking had stopped.

I walked to the back door and shouted for Liberty from the top of my steps across the driveway. One of his doors to his garage apartment was open, but he didn't hear me. Wind chimes, mobiles, and the hummingbird feeder were swaying back and forth in the windless air. Everything else seemed normal. The big palm tree in the back yard was steady. When I went down the stairs and across the pavement to Liberty's door. I looked in and said, "Did you feel the earthquake? He said he hadn't felt anything.

To prove what had happened, I pointed to the wind chimes, which were still swaying. I asked him where he would go if there was a major earthquake. He said, "Nowhere." "Not stand in a doorway?" "I don't think there is anything to worry about" "Well, the house has been standing for over a hundred years, but not the garage," I said with a laugh. He said, "I think the garage has been here that long too." I looked at him to see if he was serious about the garage being a hundred years old, but didn't say anything.

I went back into the house and turned on the radio to KCBS. A bigger quake had happened about 5 minutes before the one I felt. After listening for a few minutes, I went back to knock again at Liberty's apartment, but he had left. He had gone out by the door in the wrought iron gate and was almost at the end of the driveway near the street when I saw him. Late for work. "It's a 6.4 earthquake, near San Simeon," I shouted. He kept walking. "When we first moved here in 1989, in August 12 or so, there was an earthquake like this before the big one in Sept. I'm scared." He said, "I'm sorry you feel that way," and started to turn away again towards his car.

I called to him again, "If the big one comes, what should we do to get in touch with each other?" He looked like he was making an effort to be patient. I continued, "Do you have Peggy and Raymond's address?" "Yes." "If we get separated and can't get in touch with one another, call their number." "Even the big one wasn't a big deal." "Except for people on the highway overpasses." "Except for San Francisco and Oakland." I guess he never heard about what happened to people in Santa Cruz city and mountains, closer to Loma Prieta.

I told him, "I just found out this year that some people in San Francisco didn't have power for months. So, if we lose power and cannot reach each other, call Peggy and Raymond and leave word about how you are. I will too. " I forgot to say that he should leave word about where he was staying and how he could be reached.

The big quake in 1989 was a 6.9. This was a 6.4. There doesn't seem to be as much damage, but the reports are still coming in.

One man on the radio reported he was in an estuary near the epicenter. Before he felt the quake, the thousands of birds in the estuary all rose up from the water at once around him. He was awed.

The clock tower in Paso Robles was knocked down. Apparently some of the old brick buildings in the center of town came down. Cars in a motel parking lot were "bouncing up and down on their tires." Three people have been reported dead so far.

It briefly crossed my mind that if the quake had been strong enough, and I had been in the wrong place, I could have died tweaking my website.

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