Where Were You?
D. Paul Angel
Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of the Loma Prieta Earthquake. This is an autobiographical #FridayFlash of the 16 year old me’s experience of the 6.9 Earthquake.
I found myself in midair. Literally.
One second I was laying in bed watching the start of Game 3, the next second I was leaping out of bed. I was looking down at the floor feeling my legs kick around for landing as I became aware of my actions. I had just enough time to wonder what I was doing when I found out why.
That’s when the earthquake hit.
There was no build up, no gradual intensifying; it just was. I could hear the walls move as they fought against their foundation bolts. The floor was undulating so violently that I almost fell several times crossing the 6 feet to my door. Once there I had to brace my back against the frame with my legs to stay in place. Mom was headed towards me from the front room. I watched her fight her way to me across a floor that was oscillating at seemingly impossible angles. When she was close we reach out for each other, only to just miss as the shaking staggered her backwards. She tried again and soon we were both in the doorframe, holding and bracing each other to stay upright, wrapped in the thunderous roar of the earthquake.
It lasted a long 15 seconds.
We knew there would be aftershocks so we we hurried out of the house as soon as we could could gather ourselves. We were shocked to find our kitchen floor, a mere dozen feet away, covered in broken plates and glasses. The cabinets had opened throwing everything inside crashing to the the Kitchen’s tile floor. The earthquake was so loud we hadn’t heard anything break. We saw cracked stucco as we headed towards the driveway, making us wonder at the structural soundness of the house.
We turned the corner to the garage and saw the rollup door and fallen off of its rails and was hanging on the Volkswagon van in the garage. Shelves had fallen in the garage too, the various hazardous liquids and chemicals all now mixing in a pool to the far right of the van. Through the narrow gap between the spill and the van our dog Sunshine came walking out. She was old enough to be completely deaf deaf and almost blind, and seemed more upset at having been woken than frightened.
A neighbor came by a short time later to check on us and ended up helping us free the van from the garage door. “Oh my God!” he exclaimed, causing mine and my Mom’s heads to snap up. “look at how scratched the roof of your van is.”
My Mom told me later all she could think at that was, “Have you seen my house!?“
With the Van free we waited. It was, except for the earthquake, a beautiful middling October day. We sat on the bench at the edge of the driveway, far enough from the house to be safe, Sunshine at our feet. A large aftershock rolled though, and we could see trees on the other side of the valley surreally sway with the roll.
With the immediate danger passed, aftershocks not withstanding, I was suddenly chilled by the magnitude of the event. We didn’t know we were less than 5 miles from the epicenter, so we had assumed that this was the Big One, with its epicenter 100 miles North in San Francisco. We had friends at the game and though we hoped they were safe, down deep I knew there was no way the stadium could still be standing; anymore than the rest of San Francisco. The phrase, “Wrath of an angry God,” became both immediate and distant.
Dad came and checked on us sometime late that night. He was head of the County’s 9-1-1 center so his visit was both wonderful and brief. We found out at last that the epicenter was here, in Santa Cruz, and that while San Francisco took damage, it wasn’t catastrophic. More importantly to us, we knew he was safe, and he knew were. In the those early hours after the quake, when there was no other way of knowing, it was a Godsend of relief.
The next week was a blur, but we got things cleaned up and fixed, as did the rest of town. For the next several months everyone you met was an instant friend. The stories were many and varied, from funny to scary; from sad to miraculous. And the question was always the same, “Where were you?”