Tell me about earthquakes

I grew up in New England, and have now been living in southern California for about two years. In all that time, I have not felt a single earthquake. For some reason, I’ve been thinking a lot about this in the past couple of days, and it’s starting to freak me out a little bit. For example, this morning, while I was washing my face in the shower, I suddenly thought, “Wow, if an earthquake happened right now, I wouldn’t be able to open my eyes.” Yesterday, I was climbing a ladder and couldn’t stop thinking about what would happen if an earthquake hit while I was up in the air. What should I expect? What’s it like? Will I get over this new paranoia? Thanks.

I lived in the Bay Area during the 89’ quake. I was only about 8 years old, but I remember it clearly. I was in my house getting ready to watch the World Series, and all of a sudden the house starts shaking. Pictures were falling off the wall, and this big speaker my dad had fell over. At first, I didn’t know what was happening, but by the time it was over I understood it was an earthquake. I don’t remember being really scared. I was mad that the power went out. I thought I was missing the game.

I never have any paranoia about earthquakes. Couldn’t tell you why.

I lived in the Bay Area during the 89’ quake. I was only about 8 years old, but I remember it clearly. I was in my house getting ready to watch the World Series, and all of a sudden the house starts shaking. Pictures were falling off the wall, and this big speaker my dad had fell over. At first, I didn’t know what was happening, but by the time it was over I understood it was an earthquake. I don’t remember being really scared. I was mad that the power went out. I thought I was missing the game.

I never have any paranoia about earthquakes. Couldn’t tell you why.

You better get an electric razor.

Unfortunately, earthquakes need to be experienced to be appreciated. By that I mean you cannot get over the feeling of utter powerlessness when they are occurring. It is hard to relate to someone the feeling of the ground moving like it is when they are rolling through. I lived in Santa Cruz in 1989 and can still vividly remember to this day the way our building shook and shuddered. Aftershocks went on for months and we never knew if they would get larger and more damaging. I knew a person who happened to be on a ladder and he fell off but was unhurt. Stick around long enough and you’ll experience one, just hope that it is minor.

Veteran of Loma Prieta. I was in the backyard, watering the lawn with my mom. As soon as it stared shaking, my first instinct was, of course, to run inside and stand under a doorway. :smiley: My mom caught me before I made it, and we rode it out in the yard.

They do freak me out, I think because they’re inescapable. There’s really no way to improve your immediate situation in an earthquake (ie, no life raft, no seat backs as a flotation device- you’re stuck). But another way to think of it is that every time a little earthquake hits, the “healthier” it is in the long run, since each quake releives a little bit of the pressure that’ll eventually cause the Big One. In any case, I’m not one to panic easily, so I generally just enjoy the ride, albeit with a much-increased heart rate.

Here’s the USGS site for recent earthquakes- they have zoomed-in maps of the Bay Area and a few other locales. It’s the first thing I do after I feel one. That, and I fill out a “Did you feel it?” reports, which are hiding from me at the moment.

Earthquakes can be scary if (a) you try to deny them, pushing them out of your mind, which means you’re shocked when one happens, or (b) you think about them all the time, but unrealistically, emphasizing with paranoia all the bad stuff that might happen, so you freak out when the earth moves.

I recommend spending some time thinking about them, but realistically, so you’re prepared.

I’ll give you an example: We had a sizeable quake (6.8) here in the Pacific Northwest in February 2000. Didn’t cause a lot of damage, a couple of collapsed buildings and ruined hillside roads, and no deaths, but it was unnerving for a lot of people.

For myself, I’d been a floor warden at all of my companies up to that point, including a stint as head floor warden, so I spent a lot of time in disaster-preparation seminars, first-aid classes, and the like. In addition, my grandfather is a geologist, so I understand the plate tectonics and the mechanisms of the typical tremor. When the quake started, I snapped to attention at my desk, prepared to dive underneath. I let it ride for a few seconds, and then I said, nah, this isn’t that bad. So while the quake was in progress, I left my office and walked carefully to the center of the building (note: not recommended for the inexperienced) so I was ready to help coordinate evacuating the floor via the stairways at the end of the quake. And later, as we were all standing out in the parking lot, people (some of them in tears) were asking me about it; they all thought it was an 8 or 9, and that it lasted for two or three minutes. Nope, I said, it was a 6.5, or a 7 at most, and it felt like about 45 seconds. You’re kidding, they said to me, there’s no way. But I was right on the money, and I attribute this to the fact that I didn’t panic; and that I attribute to the time I’d spent thinking about and preparing for such an event.

My wife, on the other hand, was in the library of her university, and everybody there royally freaked out. Well, not her exactly; she was one of the only people in the room who knew not to get in the doorjamb but to get under a table instead. But nobody else knew what to expect, and panic, of course, is contagious. Immediately after the quake, my wife spent half an hour or so babysitting someone she knew who completely lost her shit, and who absolutely desperately had to find her girlfriend that fucking second or she was gonna die oh jesus oh jesus. My wife helped the friend find her partner, and then came home. She thought she was okay, but she started having low-level anxiety attacks over the next hours and days, because she’d never been through anything like that (she grew up in Chicago), and it’s truly disturbing for the solid ground you take for granted to suddenly become unstable and unreliable; it’s quite a shock to the psyche. She’s okay now, but she never wants to go through another one. Unfortunately, that’s not possible in this area, but for the sake of her happiness I don’t bring it up.

Really, that’s why earthquakes are so distressing, I think: First, you can’t predict when they’ll happen; one moment everything is normal, and the next minute it’s as if the whole world is trying to kill you. And second, it really does feel like the whole world; if you’re somewhere you can see the landscape for a long way, you can actually watch the ripples moving across the earth. Nobody anywhere is safe (unless you’re in an aircraft), regardless of location or class. One of the most-often repeated bits of footage from our quake was from a video camera at a local technology conference where Bill Gates happened to be onstage when the quake hit. If the richest man in the world isn’t safe, nobody is.

So my advice is, take as much control as you can. Be proactive. I’ve gone through our house and gotten rid of the most obvious problems, like fastening bookcases to the wall, or strapping the water heater to the basement studs. There’s nothing hanging above our bed that could fall off and injure us; there’s a fire extinguisher in two locations; first aid and emergency supplies; battery-operated radio; flashlight; and so forth. There’s a mini-emergency kit in my car and in my wife’s car. Also, whenever I go anywhere, by habit, the first thing I do is check for safe locations and escape routes. I don’t do it in a panic, and I don’t freak out and leave if there isn’t an obvious bit of shelter; I just call it a calculated risk and forget about it. But most of the time, I know within two or three seconds that if an earthquake hits, if I’m over there, I’m under that table, or if I’m over here, I’m grabbing that chair. Automatic, and almost unconscious. And I feel like it gives me a sense of control. Obviously, if an earthquake hits, it hits, and there’s nothing I can do about that, but I’ve taken the time to educate myself about what I can do to maximize my survival and take care of those around me.

Hope this helps.

Oh, and on preview:

This isn’t true, unfortunately. Fault systems are complex, and the twinge that causes one tremor may or may not have anything to do with the pending break in another one. Just because you experience a minor quake doesn’t mean you can ease up on being prepared for a bigger one.

I was only 4 during the Loma Prieta, but what I remember the most was hiding under the dining room table, and the rumbling of the quake. Not much was broken, just the TV fell over, but it still worked. You’ll know if a quake is happening.

You shouldn’t have much to worry about, since there should be strict building codes that should be sturdy enough to survive earthquakes. There were a few small quakes that I felt back in the Bay Area. They didn’t particularly scare me, and I just found it as, “Was that an earthquake? That was interesting…” You should be able to get over your paranoia. That’s California for you.

I have been thru so many earthquakes I don’t even have any idea of how many. Most earthquakes are just a little movement, nothing to be alarmed about and are less the a 3 on the Richter scale. A large earthquake can be fun. Ride it out, don’t panick, just make sure you are not near anything that can fall over and hurt you. Keep away from windows. Don’t mount pictures on the wall near your bed is also a good idea. A really large earthquake should also be rode out, but they are a little more scary to some folks.

Interesting story. In my home town (El Centro, CA) there was a large earthquake in 1973. It must have been about a 5.5 (guesstimate on my part since I don’t remember and couldn’t easily find the actual size on the net). Well it woke me up and my first thought was “tsk little sister is making her bed again!!!” I slept on the top of a bunk bed with little sister sleeping on the lower bunk. She would frequently re-make her bed in the middle of the nite. The bed was facing north-south which was the direction of the earthquake. My older brother woke up and his first thought was “they got me”. The year 1973 might not mean much to you, but that was the year The exorcist came out and older brother had seen it multiple times. Bwahahaha. His bed faced east-west so he was shook sideways.

My mom loves to tell the story of her and oldest sis standing in front of a plate glass window about 15 years ago and watching an earthquake move thru a field of wheat. It was like a wave moving thru the wheat.

Here is an interesting earthquake site to keep you informed of the movement in California. Don’t worry, California is not going to crack off and fall into the ocean, oh no, help, glub glub glub…

I lived in the Haight-Ashbury during Loma Prieta. Shortly after 5 pm, Giants in the Series, an unbelievably clear and still day (“earthquake weather”). It started out very gently then there was a sudden, dramatic acceleration and then violent swaying throughout the house for many long seconds on end. My front and kitchen windows shattered and all the tiles in the tub fell in and the wall in the living room cracked. I was so astonished at this spectacle that I forgot everything I ever heard about duck and cover and just stood there, dancing the surfer’s hula in the middle of the lurching floor. Then it stopped.

We had two really noticable aftershocks later. We got on our bikes and went up to where we could watch the Marina District burn. What a crazy evening it was! Anarchy, rumor, and misinformation ruled the City and it wasn’t until the next day that we got the full story about the Bay Bridge breaking and how all those poor people got mashed flat as pancakes in the collapsed freeway in Oakland.

Even after this I believe it’s not useful to fixate on earthquakes or be anxious about them or worry about them. When it comes, it comes.

Veteran of 3 - yes, count 'em - THREE major earthquakes.

1971 Sylmar 6.6 quake
1992 Landers 7.3 quake
1994 Northridge 6.9 quake.

1971 - I was 13 years old, woke up to rumbling and shaking. Only loss was a few days of school (yay!) and several tropical fish that slopped out of the tank.

1992 - Working for KDES radio in Palm Springs, I had been participating in a nationwide ham radio contest the night before, and on the way home had driven through Landers about 90 minutes before the quake hit. I immediately went to the station, relieved the poor part-timer on the air (poor girl, it was her first night on the air - EVER!) and instructed her to bring me all the news items regarding the quake from the AP news wire. Several other people arrived to help, and I was actually on the air when the Big Bear quake hit several hours later - I watched the studio window in front of me flex and shake, while I slowly pulled the mic back and was ready to dive under the console if the glass shattered. What I didn’t see was the people behind me holding up the CD racks so the discs didn’t tumble on the floor from the shaking. I remember very clearly what I calmly said: “OK, looks like another aftershock, wow, this is a good one. If I disappear for a moment, it’s because the studio glass looks like it might break. Don’t worry, we’re right here for you this morning.” I was so calm on the outside, but scared spitless on the inside.

1994 - Was awakened by the shaking, and the electricity went out at 4:31 AM. I called out for my roommate to grab my ham radio, which had been recharging on the kitchen counter. After about 3 minutes of searching for it, it was located under a jar of salsa which had fallen out of the refrigerator, fortunately, after wiping it off, it still worked fine. I walked out and around the corner, just in time to see a large flash as a gas main in the middle of Balboa Blvd. exploded. I called on the radio, got a ham in Long Beach, he relayed the explosion to 911, since he had his phone. This great ham stayed with me all morning as I walked the neighborhood checking out the neighbors seeing if anyone needed medical attention. Then he offered to call my parents and let them know I was fine. I was the only communication in our neighborhood for 14 hours with my radios - phones and cell phones were dead.

Earthquakes can happen anytime. Like the others have said, the best thing is knowledge and preparation. That’s what it will take to survive the “big one”.

I vividly remember the Northridge quake in 1994. I was woken up at 4:31 am (to be exact) feeling like I was in a box that someone was shaking back and forth violently. When it was over and my familiy all headed outside, I saw stars for the first time. It was the most beautiful thing that I had ever seen.

We were lucky not to have had any damage to our home, just a plate and a peice of pottery that I had made were broken. Other people weren’t quite so lucky. One couple I knew had just moved out of an apartment building, and that building ended up looking like a pancake after the quake. Talk about your luck.

Here is a link with good information (and pictures of damage) from that quake~ http://www.ngdc.noaa.gov/seg/image/geohazards_v2/document/647019.htm

I’m not afraid of eathquakes. I’ve lived in the area all of my life and have been through a few of them. A good thing to do would be to put together an earthquake/first aid kit or purchase one (they used to sell them at OSH, maybe they have them also at Home Depot), and have plenty of water in a place that would be accessable in the aftermath. This link from the Red Cross has information on what should be in your kit(s)~

If you live in California, experiencing an earthquake will eventually happen. Just be glad that our volcanoes are dormant.

Woops. Seems that I am wrong on that one. http://vulcan.wr.usgs.gov/Vhp/C1073/active_volcanoes_california.html

Well, good luck!

Pah! Amateurs! Survivor of the BIG ONE in Alaska in 1964 here. 9.2 on the Richter, shook so hard you couldn’t stand up, tossed houses off the bluff like so many child’s toys, fractured the earth, sank buildings, and generated tidal waves that hit California.

Seriously, folks, some prime rules are in order here for someone like lightningtool, who has not been through one. In addition to some of the precautionary actions mentioned above:

  1. Do NOT wait to see if an earthquake is going to get ‘stronger’. By the time you find out, it’s going to be too late to react.
  2. Do NOT run for the door. Get under the nearest table, grab onto the legs and hang on.
  3. If outside, do NOT run into a building. If the quake is a big one, do NOT go into any buildings to help others or to use a phone, etc. There may be structural damage and aftershocks that can bring the whole thing down on you.
  4. If outside, get the hell away from parked cars and overhead powerlines, if possible (it’s embarrassing to have to tell your god that you were run over by a parked car).
  5. If driving a car, pull over and remain in the car until the shaking is over. A man was killed here when he continued to drive and slammed headfirst into the wall that popped up in front of him when the earth heaved up.
  6. Do NOT drive to where the greatest damage is to take photos and sightsee. Folks in the high-damage areas are not amused and are pretty edgy about protecting private property.
  7. It’s not a bad idea to keep bottled water, flashlights, blankets, a first-aid kit, etc. in a fortified area such as a hallway or bathroom. Rotate the water or food stock periodically. We were without electricity and running water for three days.

Stay here long enough, and you’ll soon be shrugging off earthquakes like nobody’s business.

I say, if it ain’t at least 4.5, don’t waste my time about it. :slight_smile:

I know it wasn’t Anchorage 1964, but Northridge 1996 was bad enough for me. We lived on a steep hillside and I was pretty sure the house was sliding down the hill (it wasn’t.) My partner and I were reduced to helpless gibbering for the better part of 2 hours. It wasn’t until after 6:00 that it occurred to me, I could listen to the radio in my car.

My office was at Balboa & Roscoe in Northridge; the second floor had collapsed into the first in a couple of places. My own cubicle was not crushed by the second floor, but was covered in shattered glass.

Everything breakable in the house, broke. We lost about 20 huge framed posters, plus all the dishes including a not-insignificant collection of Fiestaware. I still have the clock that shattered and stopped at 4:31, but I never bought another piece of Fiestaware.

I could hardly bitch about my personal hardships at work, though; about half my coworkers became instantly (if temporarily) homeless, and divorces resulted in at least two cases. Many, many people I knew, including myself, left L.A. not long afterwards. Not so much the quake itself, just that the entire city had acquired a bad taste afterwards.

whoops, N’ridge 1994, that was. How quickly we forget.

To OP as to what’s it like?

It can be a laugh riot. They just have to be the right size.

I’ve lived in SouCal most of my long life and don’t worry too much about 'em. But in '78 in Santo Barbara I got to see the perfect earthquake. 5.2 - 5.7 or so. I was working for housing services at UCSB picking up some folks at the airport who were in town for a conference. We were just loading luggage when the quake hit.

I got to sit back in the driver’s seat of the Suburban and watch every car in the parking lot do the electric bugaloo. People coming out of the terminal couldn’t hold their footing either, most of them electing to fall down on the grass with their luggage.

So we get loaded up and are rolling away one of these unfortunate out-of-state visitors with an unlucky arrival times asked, “Does this happen a lot?”

I said, “Well, yeah. It’s four o’clock.”

Gales of hysterical laughter ensue…

Former east-coaster, now living in a major quake zone.

I haven’t really gotten used to them, even though we get one strong enough to feel every few weeks (one last week was strong enough to trip the elevator’s emergency shut-off). Basically, they make you feel really helpless: you can’t push against them, you can’t go somewhere that’s not shaking, and you can’t see it coming. All you can really do is know how to react and have your emergency kit stocked beforehand.

I was in the '71 Sylmar quake and the '89 Loma Prieta. The thing I recall most vividly about each was a sense of unreality while they were actually occurring. It wasn’t until the hours and days afterward that I felt any sort of fear about what had happened. I missed being crushed under a very large, heavy object in the '89 one by about five feet, and thinking about that after the fact was far more frightening than watching things shifting and falling around me as the ground was shaking. Also, for about a week after, every time I stood still it felt to me as though the ground was moving. Some of that might have been aftershocks, but I think mostly it was just my mind reliving the motion.

I’ve since moved to an area where there are only the occasional mild quakes, but I still have vivid memories of those two larger ones. Ultimately, all you can do is accept that there’s nothing you can do. If the big one hits, and it might, you’ll deal with it. Until then, there’s no point letting yourself live in fear.