Shaken But Not Stirred

It has been one heck of a week, and no, I’m not referring to the presidential election.

On Sunday night I went to bed at 11:45 p.m. It had taken me some finagling to get into bed because there was a cat hiding under my covers. I had worked all day and was ready to sleep until I woke up naturally the next morning.

As I lay there, drifting off, my bed started to shake. It felt like the cat was itching himself. Annoyed I looked at him, but he wasn’t moving. Then the shaking became more severe. The house creaked and rattled, furniture moved from side to side. I stumbled out of bed and stood in the middle of the floor, trying to stay upright. Adrenaline surged through me as I realized what was happening. Instinct kicked in, I hurried to stand under my bedroom door frame.

NZ_faults.png

New Zealand’s Fault Zones

The shaking lasted for what felt like forever. After it stopped I felt motion sick and had to go lie down. That feeling didn’t really leave for the next two hours as I lay awake for the next two hours watching the live Dominion Post news feed and wondering if I would have to evacuate due to a tsunami.

It’s been five days since a 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook New Zealand, and the damage is still being discovered. Just this morning it was declared that buildings in Wellington between 8 and 15 feet might be more damaged than initially thought and that people in Kaikoura near the epicenter of the quake should stay away from creeks and rivers because they might burst at any moment.

The ground continues to shake more than anyone would like. We’ve had over 2,000 aftershocks, some of which have been over sixes on the Richter Scale. GeoNet has determined that there’s an 80% chance that these aftershocks will continue for months.

I find that I am tense all the time, waiting for something to happen. Although I grew up in Los Angeles so am used to earthquakes, this quake was like nothing I’ve ever experienced.

When I went to school on the East Coast people would always ask what it was like to be in an earthquake. Was it scary? What did you do when one happened? How did I live with such uncertainty? I always laughed off their concerns. After all, they came from places where tornadoes, blizzards, and hurricanes occurred. I couldn’t understand why they would live where such disasters could happen.

But now I understand their fear. I have spent each day since the big quake waiting for another one to happen. When an aftershock occurs I pause, wondering if it’s going to last longer than a few seconds. Am I going to have to make another mad dash across my room to a doorframe or hide under the nearest heavy piece of furniture? Are there going to be more than two people killed this time?

I now have a renewed respect for earthquake drills in schools. The many Great California ShakeOuts I participated in really were good training for a potentially devastating earthquake. If I hadn’t spent my entire life practicing hiding under desks and standing in doorways I would lain in my bed panicking until something potentially devastating happened.

I also have a renewed respect for the earth. This quake caused mountains to move, roads were ripped to pieces, and oceans changed location. In 90 seconds the landscape changed, and so did people’s lives. When I really think about it I am terrified that this might happen again. Earthquakes are still so mysterious to seismologists. They’re not like weather that can be spotted days in advance.

New Zealand is a strong country with lots of practice healing from earthquakes. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, and the effect on the economy has yet to be determined. If you’re interested in helping, here are some ways.

Although I cannot post pictures from the quake because I thankfully was not in an area that was badly damaged, I recommend looking at these pictures.

I cannot claim to have enjoyed the experience of being in a country during one of its biggest earthquakes ever recorded, but it certainly was an experience for the books.

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