Wednesday, August 24, 2011

shaken and stirred.

I can't not blog about this earthquake.

USGS website screenshot taken after the quake.

As a native Californian, you can imagine that earthquakes are a normal occurrence in my life. I wouldn't say they happen every month, but when they do happen, it isn't surprising. My earliest memory of an earthquake was when I was three or four years old and the house started to shake in the middle of the night. I could hear the sliding doors of my parents' closets rattling, and I remember getting out of bed and running into the room. My mom was sitting up and assured me things would be okay. I don't remember how long it lasted, what the magnitude was, or if there were any aftershocks, but I went back to bed, and things were fine when I woke up. In schools, along with fire and lockdown drills, we had earthquake drills regularly and learned proper safety procedures of what to do and what not to do. It was just part of the routine to be prepared for natural disasters in California, from floods to wildfires.

Yesterday, a 5.8 earthquake hit Mineral, Virginia and spread along the east coast. It was barely a tremor here in Bethesda and lasted no more than 30 seconds. I was at my desk when the building began to shake and thought nothing at first until everyone around me jumped out of their chairs and someone called out, "Is that an earthquake?" I sat up, put both hands firmly on my desk and said, "Yes, it is." It stopped almost as soon as it started, and when it stopped, I sat back and continued to type, but people around me had started to grab their things as if they were going to evacuate. As I watched the chaos around me, I realized just how rare earthquakes were over here.

Within minutes, news from all over the east coast came pouring onto the web. Breaking news interrupted daily programming and Twitter was flooded with terror. They evacuated government buildings, shut down the metro and airports, etc. I was both confused and amused. I understand the initial fear: "Is this a terrorist attack? Was that a bomb?" were thoughts that ran through peoples' heads, and I can't say I know what either of those things feel like, but to me, it felt like an earthquake. My first instinct was to get under my desk, until I saw everyone try to leave the building and had to explain why that was one of the worst things you could do during an earthquake.

The east coast is not prepared for earthquakes. Many of these buildings have stood here for decades, even a century or two. It's not like in San Francisco, where after 1909, all of the buildings in the state were required to meet certain guidelines and older buildings have since been reinforced for safety. My old elementary school, which was constructed in 1899, was recently forced to relocate because the building was found to not meet certain safety requirements. It would seem that the reason a few buildings suffered damage here would be because they don't meet earthquake safety standards either. I can see why no one would think of it though--there hasn't been an earthquake this big since the 1800s here.

A crowd gathers yesterday at Pearl Street and Foley
Square (New York) after office buildings and courthouses
were evacuated following the quake.
--Michael Bocchieri/Getty Images
As images surfaced online and on TV of terrified citizens standing in the streets, all I could think was, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING??" Because if they were scared of more earthquakes or rolling aftershocks, being outside between tall, unstable buildings is not a good idea. The materials used for buildings and monuments over here are not the sturdiest. If anything is going to come crashing down on your head, it's going to be an ornate stone decoration that's been chilling at the top of a building for centuries.

So, I guess I can see why they shut down the metros and sent everyone home (even though that caused more of a gridlock than anything)--because nobody here is prepared for earthquakes. I'm sure if even a 4.0 hit the east coast, buildings would be damaged, because structures are not reinforced. Monuments and buildings are still closed even today. While this is shocking, I'm not surprised. This earthquake was not "a disaster" (see Haiti, Japan, etc.) and those structural cracks could be prevented had people/buildings been prepared. Also, injuries occur when people run out of buildings en masse (just an fyi for all you folks tripping over each other). Hopefully this is a nice wake-up call to people that natural disasters can happen anywhere and safety precautions should not be taken lightly.

1 comment:

  1. Growing up in California, it never occurred to me that there would be places in the US with no earthquake regulations on their buildings... but as you pointed out the other day, there are also places where not everyone has been to Disneyland.