It’s An Earthquake! Now What?
At 3:20 on Sunday morning, I was jolted awake when my bed started doing the jitterbug. Earthquake! And this was no minor tremor, but a serious effort by Mother Earth to realign a couple of plates that met at the long-dormant West Napa fault. Rich and I leaped out of bed and went to stand in the doorway, as instructed by a lifetime of public service announcements. Twenty seconds and a billion dollars in damage later, it was over. There were more than 120 reported injuries although thankfully, at least so far, no fatalities. As if there wasn’t enough tragedy, thousands of cases of good Napa wines were lost.
Right now, people all over the world are probably hesitating over whether to cancel their upcoming trip to California. Sizable quakes like this one tend to roll around every 25 years – 1964, 1989, 2014 – so you’re probably safe enough until 2039. But as a fourth-generation Californian, I know only too well that Mother Nature has a quirky sense of timing, so there are no guarantees. Your best bet is to learn a few earthquake survival skills, as you never know when or where one may strike. Peru, Chile, and Iceland all had major seismic activity this year, and there are many more earthquake-vulnerable cities around the world.
What to Do in an Earthquake
1. Stay calm. There will be plenty of time to panic later.
2. If you’re inside, seek protection. Duck under a sturdy table or lie down beside the couch; avoid windows. Don’t try to leave; there likely isn’t time, and you do not want to tumble down the stairs.
3. If you’re outside, stay in the open. Try to get away from things that might fall on you – which is pretty much everything from buildings to bridges. Avoid beaches, as you don’t want to be out of the earthquake and into the tsunami.
4. If you’re in your car, stop and stay put. Cars offer pretty good protection against smaller falling objects. Use common sense about where to stop; see #3.
5. Avoid elevators. They often get stuck, and no one is going to have time to come help you for quite a while.
6. Stay away from power and gas lines. Fire often does more damage than the earthquake itself.
7. Don’t use anything with a flame. Chances are you won’t be standing next to a broken gas line, but if you are, lighting a match to sooth your nerves with a cigarette could be very, very bad indeed.
Most Californians are much better prepared than I am to deal with such cataclysmic events, keeping survival kits by the door and organizing escape routes and rendezvous points for family members. My plan? To be as far from San Francisco as possible in 2039.
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8/27/2014 10:52:20 am
I was in the 1973 quake in Southern California. I was in the shower at the time. All naked, completely soaped up and just then it hit (about a 6.2) lucky for me my wife joined me in the shower until it was over. It seemed like a good place to hide.
8/27/2014 12:45:48 pm
Wow, Duane, naked and soaking wet in an earthquake – there's the stuff of nightmares! Glad you both got through it OK. A 6.2 quake is a doozy!
8/27/2014 11:54:50 am
Wow Karen! What a scare! I'd just like to share my story with you. On 23 Aug, 2011 my husband and 2 daughters were on a lovely summer vactation in Washington, D.C. -- first time ever to finally visit the State Capitol. Well, we were all in the Botanical Gardens building, everyone heading in different directions, and I was admiring the exotic flowers, when all of a sudden the ground shook. I was alone and thought it was some kind of "extra feature" -- tropical gardens effect -- was included like in Disney World (I know, I know, stupid, but true!). Anyway, there was a guide shouting to me to get out immediately, but since I was a bit disoriented, I just stood there and I really wasn't taking in what she was saying to me. So, she started shouting in Spanish to me, thinking I didn't understand her!! This whole surreal situation threw me. All this in a matter of seconds, mind you. So she came over to me, grabbed my arm and brusquely escorted me out. I saw thousands of people evacuated from all the museums. I then met up with my family and we started sharing stories. If I'm not mistaken, it was the first time an earthquake (5.8 mag) hit Washington, D.C. ALL musuems closed for the rest of the day. Bad luck on our first trip there.........
8/27/2014 12:48:32 pm
Jackie, you had quite a scare yourself! It IS hard to believe that it's an earthquake, we keep trying to find more reasonable explanations, especially in places like DC where they're less likely. Here in CA, there is always the idea that it could be the Big One, and I was so glad when it stopped!
8/28/2014 01:47:05 am
We had the Pacific NW's "Nisqually quake" not so many years ago and after years of preaching "duck, cover, and hold" in the school district where I worked; Joel and I raced outside -- all those mantras quickly forgotten. I won't soon however forget how the earth moved as if breathing deeply under our footsteps. . .earthquakes are no joke. Glad you two and so many others are safe!
8/28/2014 08:56:37 am
Yes, earthquakes are really something, and it's hard to think rationally sometimes. I was raised to joke about them – "California has its faults but who'd want to live anywhere else?" Thanks for your story, Jackie, and your good wishes!
1/22/2016 05:16:40 pm
Karen my dear-
1/23/2016 07:18:22 pm
Thanks for the update, Pete. Greatly appreciated!
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
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