When the news of the Japanese earthquake was broadcasted across the stratosphere, one number kept banging around in my mind, 8.9.
I was near the epicenter of the Loma Prieta earthquake of 89'. It was a 6.9 earthquake, the largest the continental United States had seen in over fifty years. It destroyed the downtown area my hometown of Santa Cruz. That's not hyperbole. There is not a single building along the main strip of Downtown Santa Cruz today that was there before 89'. All those pre-89 buildings just collapsed. People died. The merchants were literally operating out of tents for years. But of course what I remember most is that moment when a typical California earthquake become more serious. A friend of mine had come over to my family's home after school. My mom was busy with something in the kitchen, my stepfather was up in Oakland with a friend for the third game in the world series and my older brother was ignoring all of us as he watched TV.
And then things started to move.
|Downtown Santa Cruz after 89' quake|
My friend rolled her eyes and muttered, "I hate these things," as my mom ushered us under the doorframe. My brother was a little slower to comply and then...everything just changed. The house was shaking too much and it immediately became clear that this wasn't a "typical" anything. Finally grasping the danger, my brother grabbed the dog and held him still. My mother gasped and yelled, "Oh my God, this is the big one!" And as we all watched the ceiling, waiting for the chimney to come crashing through, I wondered, "The big one? What does that really mean? Are we all going to die? Will it be painful? Will California go into the ocean just like in the movies?" I didn't get it. Not just because I was a kid but because it was impossible to "get."
That was 6.9. This is 8.9. That is beyond my comprehension. At least one of their aftershocks was bigger than anything California has experienced in three hundred years. And while we ALL are praying and hoping for the Japanese people I think it's fair to say that everyone in California is taking a moment to ask themselves, are we prepared? And being prepared is so much more than storing extra water, a flashlight and a first aid kit. Even before 89' my mother had drilled it into my head that nothing heavy or breakable should ever be hung over the bed, not even a framed picture and ideally your bed shouldn't be near a window. Food is hard to get after a disaster so, in addition to water, I always keep a Costco box of protein bars on hand. And then there's the issue of gas. After the 89' quake we all learned the dangers of allowing your tank to get too low. If you need to go on a search for your loved ones or, God forbid, evacuate an area quickly, you don't want to run out of gas because the gas stations might not be open for days.
But then again, a lot of this stuff won't make a difference if the building your in collapses. I dearly hope that if I have to live through a quake bigger than the Loma Prieta quake I will conduct myself with the dignity, courage and calm that the Japanese people are exhibiting now. Their strength is awe inspiring. And I think it's worth noting that while we've heard of food shortages and the like we have not heard a single report of looting or price gouging. In the last decade or so lots of disasters that have occurred in third world countries have been reported by the media but to see one of the wealthiest nations in the world suffer this, a country that boasts the world's third largest economy...well it's much easier for us to make comparisons between how things are being handled there and how they would be handled here. One thing is clear, regardless of how wealthy your country or state is, when you suffer a disaster of this proportion you need the compassion and assistance of the international community. I honestly believe that when the time comes (and we all know it's coming) Japan will be there for us. Now we need to be there for them.
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