Earthquakes, Los Angeles and How We Deal
Yesterday at 2:53pm EST my phone rang.
“Sweetie” (it was my mom), “There’s been an earthquake”
My heart stopped.
“Where was it centered?”
“I don’t know”
“They’re saying it was in the 6’s and…”
“Where are you?”
“Driving home from …”
“How are the dogs?”
By now I was shrieking, I barely heard her empty assurances that they must be okay and that she would try to get a hold of someone nearby.
I hung up and rushed to my computer, certain that the worst had happened. Another major Quake…
When I was 8 the ‘94 Northridge Quake destroyed most of my known world. My family was homeless for 9 months and all of our parks were turned into National Guard relocation facilities. For a while I slept with my tennis shoes on—in case I had to climb out of my room the next morning.
It is impossible to describe the relief that washed over me when I finally got through to the LA Times website and saw that it was only a 5.8 (later lowered to a 5.4) with horizontal motion and centered in Chino Hills about 55 miles from my home in the San Fernando Valley.
As I finished the Times’ article and my heart beat returned to normal, I began to reflect on the particular “Earthquake Culture” of So-Cal (Southern California).
There’s a certain sense of camaraderie for Los Angelinos when a quake hits. Since everyone my age and older remembers ‘94 and at least something from Whittier in ’87, there’s an unspoken understanding that a quake such as yesterday’s brings back traumatic memories. It’s like a common PTSD experience.
Following a tremor the typical hardened LA attitude experiences a brief respite: hugs are exchanged between strangers in a supermarket, hardcore business women allow themselves a momentary cry, and people from all walks of life stop on street corners to swap quake stories.
That’s another part of So-Cal Quake Culture—the stories. Since Quakes are fairly unique among natural disasters in that they hit suddenly day or night, rain or shine and at any time of the year, everyone has a very different story and, following a traumatic tremor, they come spilling out. Inevitably someone will tell the “my half-asleep brother was peeing when the ‘94 quake hit and it went everywhere” story.
Finally, Los Angelinos tend to talk about quakes being “fun” and “good” much to the bafflement of our out-of-state friends and relatives. I think we do this as a defense mechanism. Earthquakes happen with no warning. If you live in So-Cal you will experience a quake—there’s no way to run from it. That’s pretty freaky—especially if, like me, you’ve experienced a killer quake (the ‘94 quake killed 71 people). To maintain sanity it’s essential to focus on the “fun” aspect of the quake –the roller coaster type motion.
To live in LA is to know that the so-called ‘Big One’ could occur at any moment. Thankfully that didn’t happen yesterday but when it does I guarantee that the survivors will be hugging, crying, and swapping stories. It’s an LA thing.
[Photo courtesy of howstuffworks.com]