There’s a lot going on the online geo-world tomorrow. It’s Blog Action Day, and the subject is Climate Change. It’s Earth Science Week’s first Women in Geoscience day. And, at 10:15 am Pacific time, it’s California’s second annual earthquake drill – the Shake Out.
I don’t live in California, but I might crawl under my desk tomorrow morning just to be part of the action. Because there’s a big anniversary coming up on Saturday, and I’ll be busy in Portland, Oregon, without the time to post.
At 5 pm on Tuesday, October 17, 1989, I was just settling down to do my Chinese homework. (Yes, I had been procrastinating.) I had been living in California for three weeks, in a frat-house-turned-hippy-co-op, just getting started in grad school. I knew how close the fault was, and that the building where I lived had been built just a few years after 1906. But geologic time is long, and human time is short, and even a geology grad student can find it difficult to imagine tectonic and human time converging.
It began with a rattling, like a big truck driving by. I was excited. Then it started shaking more, and I considered crawling under my rather flimsy desk. But then the desk started moving across the floor, so I moved into the doorway. (Not a good idea, by the way. Doors can swing.) But by the time I got there, I could barely stand. So I sat, wedged into the door, back on one side and feet pressed against the other, screaming “is this an earthquake?” until, with the sound of breaking glass, it stopped.
We didn’t know where the epicenter had been, or how large of an area had been affected. Radio news said the Bay Bridge had collapsed, and the Marina District was on fire, and the aqueduct from Hetch Hetchy had broken, and something had happened in Berkeley. (The Hetch Hetchy and Berkeley rumors turned out to be false.) We thought that Stanford had gotten off easily – yeah, the chimney on one of the houses had collapsed, and there was plaster everywhere on the floor of our house, and the brick foundation was buckled in odd ways, but everything else was standing, even the Old Quad that had been damaged so much in 1906. Compared to areas to the south, we had gotten off easily – the Santa Cruz Garden Mall had collapsed (as Gillian Welch reminds me) – but we were hit badly enough. The next day, the structural engineers put yellow warning tape around our house. I don’t remember when they let us in for long enough to get a change of clothes. I probably snuck in. I remember being allowed in for 10 minutes to fill some garbage bags with stuff, and then not having any place to store it. (I didn’t have a car.) After around a week, a group of us found a house to rent in Palo Alto. I couldn’t get my mail forwarded to there – the US Postal Service doesn’t forward from campus addresses. I cried and yelled at the people sorting the mail.
We were fortunate that most of the nearby buildings weren’t damaged. We were able to get food from the dorms. The city water still flowed. There were places around for rent. Nobody that I knew was hurt, so we didn’t need medical supplies.
After the earthquake, Stanford buried supplies around campus. (I wonder if anyone knows where they are buried now, 20 years later?) For years, even in Vermont, I wouldn’t put shelves near a bed. (Never figured out a good way to keep my glasses from flying across the room in a quake, though.)
I don’t live near the plate boundary any more. Earthquakes can happen in Colorado, it’s true, but they aren’t as likely as in California. But tomorrow morning, I’m going to remember what it was like. You can, too.
I promise not to scream this time.
And just when you thought there was going to be a post that doesn’t mention Donors Choose… two of our projects deal with earthquakes. Earthquakes in the Bronx only needs $138 more to get drafting compasses and and earthquake video, and Shake, Rattle, and Measure is looking for earthquakes and volcanoes materials for a classroom in Arkansas. No, these kids aren’t in California… but who knows where they will live when they grow up. And earthquakes and volcanoes are good hooks to catch the interest of kids anywhere.