Wherever a person chooses to live, there is some force of nature, luck, or fate that we all must deal with. Hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons, wildfires, droughts, blizzards, floods—everyone is at the mercy of nature.
We live in what I think is one of the most beautiful spots in the world on the northern California coast next to the Pacific Ocean in the heart of the redwood country. For those who may live in other parts of the world, this is not the California that you may first think of when listening to the music of the Beach Boys. As someone not a fan of extreme heat or cold, it doesn’t get much better than living in Humboldt County.
Yet, life here is far from perfect. Crime and homelessness are at an all-time high. We moved to Arcata in 1973 when I was starting high school, and I’ve resided in Humboldt ever since, except for one year when I moved to experience life on my own in the San Francisco Bay area.
While we’re happy where we live, near many of our closest friends, we got a wake-up call the other night that reminded us not to take anything for granted.
There is no ideal time for an earthquake. Yet, waking up at 2:30 in the morning to violent shaking and wondering for a moment if this was the way life was about to end is the least perfect scenario. It’s not an unfamiliar scene. We’re used to quakes, yet few have gotten our attention the way this one did. Living near a fault will always be part of living here.
For someone who’s never experienced the feeling of being in a powerful earthquake, it’s hard to describe. It’s like taking a soda can and shaking it as hard as possible. The notion that you’re going to walk down the hall and get under some heavy piece of furniture to protect yourself from falling objects is unrealistic. You ride out the wave and pray that it will be over soon.
The power instantly shut off as it was happening, and our phones went off in alarm to let us know that an earthquake was happening. It’s odd to receive a warning when you’re in the middle of one. The duration lasted not more than 30 seconds, but we were no match for this powerful force. After it was over, my wife immediately grabbed a flashlight and went out to the garage to get our dog. Lulu is super sensitive to loud noises, and it was natural to think she would be upset. She did much better with this event than with fireworks.
After a few deep breaths where we attempted to reduce the adrenaline coursing through our bodies, we grabbed a lantern light and began to assess the damage. It was overwhelming since debris and broken items were everywhere. My first thought was for our immediate safety. I didn’t smell any gas, so that was a good sign. There wasn’t any drop in water pressure which told me we probably didn’t have a busted line. It wasn’t long before we saw broken glass from glassware that had flown out of our cabinets. I might have gone outside to get a clearer picture of the overall assessment of the house, but it was dark and raining.
After putting footwear on, we walked around the house more and saw scattered items in every room. Our televisions were on the floor, pictures had fallen off the walls or were askew at weird angles, and the house was a jumbled mess. Chaos was the perfect descriptor.
If we had electricity at that moment, we likely would have started cleaning up the mess. Instead, realizing that the immediate danger had passed, we did the unthinkable and went back to bed. I’d describe the feeling as similar to avoiding a car crash at the last second. The adrenaline flowed, and sleep would be hard to come by. Still, what would we accomplish in the middle of the night? It would still be there in the morning.
Were we worried about aftershocks? Yes, somewhat, though my experience has been that those are never as bad as the opening event. They did happen throughout the coming hours and reminded our frayed nerves not to get too comfortable. We lay in bed thinking of everything we’d need to do in the morning, yet still unaware of our actual damage. Amazingly, sleep did eventually come.
Since the winter solstice was nearly upon us and we were without power, we awoke at dawn. It was only then that we saw the enormity of the mess. We walked into the kitchen and saw that the refrigerator had moved a couple of feet. Cabinets had opened, and broken dishes and glassware were everywhere. It looked like a bomb had gone off.
I walked around the house to assess structural damage when it got brighter. Fortunately, at first glance, there was none. Our cell phones were the one thing still working. One of the bridges in the area sustained damage, and we heard reports of some minor problems with roads.
We built a fire and began cleaning up throughout the house. Whenever we opened a door or cabinet, it seemed there was more to clean up. All kinds of things had come down in the garage and leaned against our vehicles. It was still too early to determine if any damage had occurred to our cars.
After three hours, we had put most things back in place, knowing there were still plenty of closets in disarray. The canning room was such a mess it was impossible to enter. We closed the door and left it for later. My wife called our gas and electric company and learned we might have power by 10:00 p.m. that night.
It’s funny what you think of in the aftermath of a crisis. We have a housekeeper come once a month, and wouldn’t you know it, this was supposed to be the day. After a brief conversation, she told us she could come the next day, giving us time to put the house back together. I was supposed to bring a wheelchair-bound friend to her PT appointment that morning, but they called and canceled.
I drove into town to see the extent of the situation. All of the traffic lights were out, and the gas stations were closed. I found one grocery store open, powered by a generator. It was eerie walking around in semi-darkness with a bunch of other people. The word got out, and the store filled quickly.
It’s now three days after the event, and while things are returning to normal, some businesses are still cleaning up and have yet to reopen. Perhaps the strangest feeling of all is learning that some people on the other side of town had only one or two items fall in their house. We must be much closer to the fault line.
Sadly, two people died (the paper described from “a medical event,” so I’m guessing a heart attack), and according to the last count, nineteen people sustained injuries. It easily could have been much worse.
With time comes a better perspective. While my wife lost a few keepsakes that were important to her, 95% of the broken items are easily replaceable. In the end, it’s just stuff. We were reasonably prepared and felt lucky to get our power restored the same day. I know there are some in the county still waiting. Fortunately, though frigid weather is sweeping the nation, it’s 48 degrees here today.
The overall message for me is not to take anything for granted. I know the country is about to undergo what the news describes as a “once in a generation weather event.” Be thankful for all your blessings.
Note from Pete: I don’t usually do themed posts, but I decided to follow my blogging friend, Clive’s lead, who is the expert at choosing music to fit his theme. Check him out at https://cliveblogs.wordpress.com/