Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Shake, shake, quake!

Mid-Atlantic earthquake

scores a Richter 5.8,

but may prove stronger

as oddly fun memory

'It's Obama's fault'

I can scratch this one off my bucket list: Earthquake.

A real earthquake – not those piddly 2.2-Richter giggles that used to make big news in suburban Howard County, Maryland. We’re talking shake-the-house-for-20-seconds quake, and sharing the visceral thrill with, reportedly, folks from Georgia to Ontario and as far west as Detroit and Chicago.

I did feel the earth move, once – in Tokyo four years ago, while visiting friends whose rented home seemed to rest on quake-prone ground. Tokyo jiggles and shakes a lot, and with it the back of the house with the children’s bedroom vibrated. The kids preferred sleeping with their parents up front in seeming safety, so Bonnie and I won the children’s room where I could sense ever so slightly the movement below ground.

It was hardly an earthquake, not the kind that hits Japan every now and then and really causes havoc – most recently this year’s 9.0 shocker that churned up a tsunami disaster and nuclear power nightmare and claimed close to 20,000 lives.

Bonnie attributed the subtle subterranean movement to her unsettled feeling on her first trip to Japan in the late 1990s. We’ve been back there together twice. And every time we hear the words Japan and earthquake on the news, we double-check where the latest one hit and make sure to check in with our friends spread across its islands.

A few weeks before Japan’s mega-quake, we closely followed earthquake news from another of our international stops in recent years – Christchurch, New Zealand.

It was strange seeing on TV the ruins of buildings we had driven past on our visit there in 2006, and wondering how the folks we had stayed with – a couple who ran a bed-and-breakfast in their home, and another couple we’d met in a sports bar – had fared.

According to the compendium of disasters readily found at Wikipedia, the Christchurch quake claimed 181 lives. Recently, we heard news of a rebuilding proposal for the city that would take a decade and some $2 billion to accomplish. It includes more open space, and height restrictions for new development – and likely would create a safer city in the event of future quakes.

New Zealand, like Japan, is part of the quake-prone Pacific Rim of Fire. They expect quakes and shakes, and no surprise when a volcano burps in neighboring Indonesia.

But here in America’s seemingly rock-steady mid-Atlantic, earthquakes – real earthquakes – make big news, and today’s 5.8-rater not surprisingly shifted TV news away from its third-day focus on the downfall of Libya’s dictator.

Even so, I’ve heard of no deaths being reported despite the large geographic area feeling the shock from some 3.7 miles beneath a rural Virginia region southwest of Washington, D.C. – and some 125 miles from our home between Baltimore and Annapolis.

Despite sporadic damage -- in Baltimore it was bricks falling off rowhouses, a wall collapsing on an old industrial building, and stone or cement ornamentation falling off a high church steeple -- the quake seemed mostly a matter for after-the-fact laughter and for earthquake virgins an odd, unforgettable experience.

“It’s Obama’s fault,” Tara Baldwin posted on Facebook, which was hopping with humor.

Tara, a longtime friend of our younger daughter, also offered: “Pasadena, MD, not CA.”

The jokes and fun were all over my friends’ Facebook posts – several quickly linking to a video of Carol King singing, “I Feel the Earth Move.”

Maria Stainer and family were shopping at a Walmart. “Truth be told,” she posted, “when stuff started to fall, I thought for a moment, ‘Should I get us in a crash position?’ And then I thought, ‘Run!’ The run option won out. I'm a little bummed, too. Bras were on sale for $7.”

Harford County EMS robocall informed me several hours late that ‘A’ earthquake visited us today. Thank God it was not a greater grammatical challenge,” wrote my photographer friend Edwin Remsberg. “I have to wonder if anyone in county government could figure out how to pronounce ‘tsunami.’

“Amazing how chatty and nice everybody was from about 2:00 until 2:20 this afternoon,” posted Baltimore humorist pal Dave Belz, who added later:

“Things that will need re-doing in Baltimore because of today's quake: sutures in the ERs; edging by housepainters; pizza slices; eyeliner; tattoos; haircuts; putts...

For its pure simplicity and joy, there was veteran news pal Steve Auerweck’s succinct: “WHEE!!!”

The quake hit about 1:51 p.m.

I was on the couch, and felt a little dizzy – wondering if it was my second aftershock from a morning dose of anesthesia for an endoscopic exam. I got up and found it was not me shaking. It was the house. It jiggled and creaked and rumbled like a giant truck was going past. And the shake was like the shockwave felt when a stately oak tree was taken down – the trunk grounding with a boom! Except the house kept on shaking, for close to 20 long seconds.

Neighbors emerged, and converged to share the moment.

Our heads were shaking, too – in amazement.

In the neighboring back yard, water in the round, above-ground swimming pool rippled in concentric circles.

A few minutes later, I felt another vibration, perhaps a tiny aftershock, and looked outside. The water pattern had switched to little waves.

Bonnie was driving home from the store when it hit. She said the station wagon felt like it had a flat tire “and then it just stopped.”

She had no idea there had been an earthquake.

That’s a shame.

It is so much nicer, after all, when you feel the earth move together.

1 comment:

Kathleen said...

Love that last line .