March 03, 2006

Safe As Houses

We've had three fairly minor tremors in the East Bay over the past day or so, all of them just enough to make you wonder whether you should get up and head for safety even as they stop (as suddenly as they started). Just enough to make your heart thump as the adrenaline rushes….

As someone who experienced the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake here firsthand, I've never really forgotten the experience of a major quake. For years afterwards the phrase "safe as houses" feels like a mockery when you remember the sight of a sturdy brick wall disintegrating in a wave motion above your head or you remember the way the redwood beams creaked and groaned continuously as you stood on a bucking floor, crockery and glass shattering all around you, the door you're standing next to snapping free from its frame and hitting your legs. And there's a deep, very characteristic noise from the ground associated with quakes that you never forget, mixed in with the noise of your house trying not to go to pieces.

For years afterwards, every little house noise or shake in the night sets your heart racing, the deep rumble of every passing truck sets off those tremors in your mind….

(Part of California).


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