“The Big One”

Woke up early this morning. It was still dark outside. I laid in bed for awhile trying to go back to sleep but it was pointless so I got up, got dressed and headed out front to get the newspaper. God, it was so incredible outside. It was cool and crisp as you’d expect on a winter’s day. The full moon seemed to hover above the treetops and shone like a beacon, and the sky was unbelievably clear, the stars sparkled like diamonds. I stood there awhile taking in the beauty of the pre dawn , when it suddenly occurred to me that there was absolutely no breeze and it was very quiet, too quiet. Even the nearby freeway seemed to have vanished for the moment. It was eerie . “Like the calm before the storm,” I thought to myself.  I’m not sure where that had come from, but it was immediately followed by a, “feels like earthquake weather,” thought. I found that pretty strange since I know meteorological conditions have nothing to do with earthquakes, and the whole notion of calm and stillness preceding an earthquake is a groundless myth, still I had to wonder.

Having lived in California all of my life, I’ve had the experience of riding out several  earthquakes. On a few occasion I actually wondered if perhaps we were experiencing  the ‘big one’ that has long been expected. This is especially true of the 6.6, Sylmar Quake of 1971.

Like today I woke up early that morning, perhaps five or ten minutes before the quake hit at 6AM. I still remember the fear I felt that morning as it came rumbling through. I was laying there thinking about my plans for the day when I began to hear a low rumbling sound and felt a slight motion. Immediately I thought to myself, ‘earthquake!’ I thought about getting up and standing in my doorway, but didn’t. The rumbling continued to get louder until it sounded like a freight train was headed straight for my room, then the wild ride began, jerking and tossing my bed around! I thought it would never end!  But it did. That sixty second ride was the longest minute of my life, and of course , although devastating, it wasn’t the big one.

Then came the Whittier Quake of 87, a 5.9 that lasted roughly twenty seconds. There was no loud roar associated with that quake, and it had more of a rolling motion, nothing like the Sylmar Quake.  It too was devastating, but not nearly as terrifying.

In 1994 the Northridge Quake, a 6.7 that lasted about 45 seconds rolled through. This quake was more like the Sylmar Quake in that the movement  associated with it was more of an up-down jerking motion. Although I was inside as I had been for the Sylmar Quake, there was no growing roar or freight train sound, there was only motion.

Perhaps the strangest sensation I ever felt during an earthquake was while on the phone in a phone booth. I was talking to my girlfriend when she suddenly began shouting that there was an earthquake. Feeling nothing, I laughed and told her to stop fooling around. She swore there was an earthquake and as she said it, the phone booth began to rock and roll!  I was about three miles away from her and it had taken a few seconds for the quake to reach me. It was frightening being confined in that booth! I remember I dropped the phone, swung the door open and got the hell out of there!  That quake lasted only a few seconds and was a mere 4.1, but it was quite an experience.

As I headed back inside the house I continued to think about the ‘big one.’ I have a gut feeling that when the ‘big one’ hits, it will truly be a BIG ONE! Unfortunately I think it will catch most people off  guard and unprepared. Californian’s are much too complacent when it comes to the earthquakes. We tend to become very concerned immediately following an earthquake event. There is always a rush to prepare for the possibility of a big quake, in the days and weeks that follow, but as more time passes without a quake our interest wanes, and our fears diminish. Our great preparation plans are set aside and life goes on until the next quake. If the quake is minor, oh well, but if it’s the ‘big one’ we’re in real trouble.

The aftermath of the ‘big one’ will be much uglier than Sylmar, Northridge and Whittier combined. Perhaps I’ve seen one too many disaster movies, but I do believe that the consequence of a truly large quake will be extremely bleak. Things could really get ugly quick.  I would like to believe that we will all work together to restore order. The humanitarian in me says that we will, but then I think about our freeway road rage, and how rude and selfish people can be and wonder. I can only hope that when the ‘big one’ does hit, people will forget their pettiness and reach out and lend a helping hand. We’re going to need it.
I went inside, poured myself a cup of coffee,opened up the Times and began reading.             ‘ LAUSD  Rocked By a 2nd Day of Violence.’  It wasn’t long before all my worries about the ‘big one’ were replaced by new ones.
J S

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