Witness to Terror: The Great East Coast Quake of ’11

Pre-post update: At 11:37 p.m. PDT, just as I was about to post this, we had a little five-second earthquake I could feel in Berkeley. Amazing — I felt shakes on both coasts today.

Update 11:52 p.m.: The U.S. Geological Survey says this evening’s quake was a 3.6-magnitude shake centered in the hills about 10 miles south of where we live. Translation: It was a mild event. But the Twitter reaction–the locals are falling all over themselves to report their experience–sort of proves the point of how adrenaline-producing this is even for folks who live astride dangerous earthquake faults.

Original post: I was at the airport in Newark early this afternoon, tending to a tuna fish sandwich in Terminal C and contemplating my next social media communique, when a gentle but pronounced shaking started. It went on for about 10 seconds or so and got stronger. I looked at a guy sitting near me who didn’t seem to have registered anything unusual. “I’m from California,” I said, “and out there we’d think this is an earthquake.” He looked up, but didn’t say anything. Meantime, the shaking got still more intense–by now, I knew that this wasn’t a matter of a piece of heavy equipment doing something outside the terminal. The flat-screen TV mounted near the gate started to rattle. A group of people sitting nearby started to ask, “Is this an earthquake?” I did in fact send out a Twitter message as the shaking subsided:

At Newark airport, I could swear we just had an here in Terminal C.

OK, I concede I wasn’t really selling the story of the century there. But the shaking continued for about 10 seconds or so even after I sent the message; I would guess that I felt some movement for a full 60 seconds. Allowing for how easy it is to overestimate the duration of a temblor, I’d say now “more than 30 seconds.” In either case, that was longer than any quake I’d felt here in California since April 1984, when there was a a 6-point-plus earthquake down near Morgan Hill in Santa Clara County. I remember that quake as having last a good 45 seconds. (For comparison’s sake, the 1989 Loma Prieta quake, which was a 7.0 event, lasted 17 seconds; the 9.0 earthquake off the northeast coast of Japan last March is said to have lasted six minutes).

I didn’t see or hear any real alarm in the terminal–just excitement. Afterward, I heard many people discussing it or describing it during cellphone calls. In other words, It was a lot like the California earthquakes I’ve gotten to know since arriving here in the mid-1970s. (On Facebook, my friend Pete posted a piece from The New York Times on how the seismically-tough West Coast scoffed at the East Coast’s reaction to its less than devastating quake. Don’t buy that line at all: people here jump up and down everytime the earth gives a little shudder, and the news people here practically wet themselves every time we have a quake.)

3 Replies to “Witness to Terror: The Great East Coast Quake of ’11”

  1. I’ve been fascinated by earthquakes since I was in one on a Saturday morning at the age of 10 (or about). My brother and I were home alone. My mom was at a funeral in Peoria and my dad was out running errands. I was in one room and my brother was in the living room, and I yelled at him to stop stomping around because he was shaking the house. LOL. I don’t know how long it lasted, but I remember the only way I could walk to the living room was by holding onto walls and furniture. I know I’ve told you this somewhere before because I remember you telling me you were at the Jewel with your dad and he was inside and you stayed in the car, I think, during the exact same event.
    Great write-up, Dan. That you felt earthquakes on both coasts on the same day is an amazing thing. Also, I especially enjoyed your terror tweets.

  2. Marie: Yes, I remember your story of that long-ago quake, and you recall my reminiscence exactly. I was amazed to come across someone who remembered that Prairie State temblor.
    Thinking about it, I must have been one among several thousand people who had a chance of experiencing both of those earthquakes on Monday if you consider the possibility of all the other flights with people who felt the East Coast quake and then flew to the Bay Area and stayed put long enough to feel the earth move again. Still–pretty long odds, and I admit I was delighted by the coincidence.
    P.S. I’ve never used “the” for supermarkets (or freeways, a common practice in California, as in: “I’m going to take the 55 up to Bloomington). Except maybe for A&P, when resorting to the old joke “I’m going to the A and pee.”

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