A little reminder of where we live: we had a 5.6 magnitude earthquake this evening, centered about 40 miles or so south of us. I was sitting in my office with my laptop (where else?), trying to do a simple project for Kate. First there was a rumble as the older, front portion of our house started to shake; then the back, which unlike the front is built on a slab, started to shake, too; and things kept rattling, the dog started barking, and I heard Kate, on the phone with Thom up in shake-free Eugene, exclaiming about the experience. In all, the episode lasted about 15 seconds.
I think about earthquakes, for which we and most of our fellow citizens are probably woefully underprepared, pretty often. Several times I’ve awakened to a loud shaking in the house, so sometimes I wonder as I fall asleep whether I’ll be jolted awake in the night. In waking hours, they’re pretty far from my mind. But I always have the same thought as the realization dawns we’re having a quake: How bad will this be?
Tonight: 15 seconds is plenty long to start wondering whether this is more than the hills up yonder having a little stretch. The biggest recent quake that most people outside the Bay Area have heard of, the Loma Prieta earthquake of October 17, 1989, lasted 17 seconds. The longest I’ve ever felt was one that woke me up just after noon one day in April 1984. The epicenter was a good 60 miles away, and the magnitude was a not-devastating-sounding 6.0 or so. But it lasted for about 40 seconds and unnervingly seemed to get stronger as it continued. For a nightmarish comparison, the earthquake that hit Mexico’s western coast in September 1985 and triggered building collapses in Mexico City (about 220 miles from the epicenter) is said to have lasted three minutes. That’s long enough to start believing the shaking will never stop, long enough to make you permanently lose your faith that the ground’s an essentially stable, solid thing.