I've been thinking about earthquakes a lot lately. I know it sounds a little fatalistic to think and talk about the inevitable shaker that is supposed to rock California to its core. But everywhere you turn here people are talking about it, warning you to be prepared, to be afraid - very afraid.
Even more comforting than these encouraging words are the disaster preparedness trainings you go to and trained disaster experts kindly show you pictures of your neighborhood: "this was the corner of Chestnut and Scott after the 1989 quake." Oh, terrific. Thank you for that.
I'd never even felt a little tremor before I moved to California. I lived most of my life in Tornado Alley and saw tornados (and even secretly wanted to be one of those storm chasers). South Carolina didn't see much more than a heavy thunderstorm during the summer months and the occasional windy rain from hurricanes coming up the coast.
I remember the first time I felt an earthquake here. It was about 7:30 A.M. and I had just woken up. I was sitting in bed checking my email and I heard a decoration we have on our hallway cabinet shaking. "That's strange," I thought. Then I felt my bed shake. It was only about 2 seconds worth of movement, but it made my heart stop. I don't want to feel a bigger one. Over the months I've felt several little shakers. They happen all the time. You usually only really feel the shaking if you are sitting still. There are even websites and iPhone applications where you can look and see the magnitude of these micro-earthquakes (microearthquake = a shaker with a magnitude of 2.0 or less on the Richter scale).
I thought I would do some reading on the bigger earthquakes (1906 and 1989) that have in essence formed much of the history of this region. Mom, you may not want to read.
(Note: I did not take any of the photos that follow, just so you know)
This is the big one. One source said that this earthquake was "one of the most significant earthquakes of all time." The article goes on to explain that although this is certainly not the biggest quake of all time in terms of magnitude, the knowledge science has gained from studying this event has been invaluable. It was not until almost fifty years later that scientists began to realize the uniqueness of this event and start to develop models and theories to predict other large earthquakes.This quake brought burgeoning San Francisco to its knees and shocked the nation with its destructive force.
On April 18, 1906 at 5:12 A.M. the foreshock hit the city and less than half a minute later, the minute from hell shook San Francisco, the Bay Area and rocked the earth up to Oregon, down to Los Angeles, and over through Nevada. The hardest shaking (and the most damage) was felt in the areas reclaimed by the city from the Bay and made into landfill...I happen to be sitting on one such area as I write.
While there was significant damage to San Francisco during and after the earthquake by the earth movement beneath the city and surrounding areas, the real destruction (estimated at 90%) was caused by a fire that broke out during the earthquake. It is estimated that over 3,000 deaths occurred during the time of the quake and fire. Interestingly, at the time of the quake, death tolls were reported to be around 400 - falsely claimed by city officials in order to not discourage the potential of the city's real estate and commerce while they rebuilt. Out of a population of about 400,000, around 250,000 of these were evacuated or completely homeless.
The fire, as I stated above, was the real destroyer in this disaster. The blaze raged for about five days. There was not one source of the fire, but rather several small fires (gas lines, kitchens, ammunition and explosives in storage, etc.) caused by the displacement of the quake spread to create a monster fire that devoured 25,000 buildings in 490 city blocks. Sadly and ironically, many "extra" fires were started by untrained volunteer firemen who tried to use dynamite to stop fires from spreading. Another result of the ground displacement during the earthquake was some rupture water mains - causing water to be scarce and firemen to have few resources to use in fighting the enormous, growing fire.