Saturday, January 09, 2010

Mother Nature's Roller Coaster

Edited to add: a link to a front page photo from today's paper and to the story.

We had a 6.5 earthquake at 4:30 pm on Saturday. It was a firm reminder that Mother Nature is really in charge, that we delude ourselves with daydreams of control and mastery, but ultimately, greater powers are in charge, and when they remind us, we are humbled.

We're all well. My house is fine, we didn't experience even one broken dish. I had an old bottle of sunscreen on top of the furnace in the garage, and it fell, the bottle cracked, and the sunscreen spilled. We had no power until just now, 11pm. I bless the people who work for Pacific Gas and Electric, who work so hard to restore power at times like this.

When the quake hit, I was in the middle of my first foray into the new Kohl's department store. It opened about 4 months ago, but I still hadn't been in. I decided to go shopping for bras. Michael had gone to pick up things for dinner, and was going to come to my house and cook. Allie was at her job at the restaurant, prepping for dinner service. Alex was at his job at the grocery store.

So here I was, thankfully, as Michael later noted, at least not in the dressing room naked from the waist up, but casually looking for a cashier, carrying two bras, (one beige, one black) a pair of leopard print drawers, (of all things) and a set of pink pajamas, when everything started to shake and the lights went out. The first jolt was pretty strong, but then, a bad sign, the ground kept rolling. I was in an area with racks of clothes, and had to struggle to keep my feet under me. Across the isle, dishes started to fall off the shelves and break. I could see the exit because it was still light outside. I dropped the merchandise and headed for the door, as did almost all the other shoppers.

Once I got outside, I saw a woman with a little girl, still holding garments on hangers. A pregnant woman clutched her belly and said she hoped this wouldn't send her into labor. An older lady stopped to chat with me as I fumbled for my cell phone. She seemed completely unaffected by the quake. She was just annoyed that she'd come all the way to town to exchange something, and now she wouldn't be able to.

All around me people began to run for their cars. I stood there for several minutes with my cell phone in my hand, in a quandary about who to call first. I called Michael, but he didn't answer. I later learned that he was at my house on the phone with his son in San Francisco, so he didn't answer. He realized it was a strong quake, but perhaps because he wasn't in a public place when it happened, he was the least effected of all of us. I left him a message.

I called Allie, who didn't answer either, so I sent her and Alex a text: "I'm okay, check in when you can." Allie works in the basement of one of the oldest buildings in the county. When the ground started to move, she was standing with a knife in her hand. All her co-workers, not being Californians, were confused when she dove under a table. They headed for the exit, and she followed them out, leaving her phone behind.

I was especially worried about Alex. I had visions of toppled shelves and broken glass. It turns out he was in the beer cooler at the time, surrounded by walls of stacked beer in glass bottles and cases of cans. He stood in the door frame of the cooler, until he remembered from his Red Cross training that the door frame isn't necessarily a great place to stand during an earthquake, so he exited the store. They thankfully had minimal breakage, though I think Alex was pretty shook up. They kept the store open, after hooking up a generator to the store manager's car battery when the generator battery wouldn't work. Alex spent part of his shift moving ice cream into the freezer at the back of the store to prevent them from losing inventory. Locals kept coming in to get candles and batteries.

As I pulled myself together to drive home, I lined up with all the cars leaving the mall. Emergency vehicles were coming in. I later heard that ceiling tiles and skylights came down in the mall, but that there appear to have been no major injuries and no major structural damage to buildings. As I drove home, Alex texted me that he was okay, and Allie called to check in. A woman called into the radio station I was listening to to say that all her glasses and dishes had fallen from the shelves and broken.

It's taken hours for the adrenaline to subside. Michael cooked and we had dinner and sat in the dark waiting for the power to come on. We got out the candles and the lanterns. Allie came home after they closed the restaurant, leaving meat on the cutting boards in the dark, and the food in the refrigerators spoiling. Alex came home after his shift and played the guitar. I knitted a few rows on a shawl that I can knit by feel. I feel like we dodged a bullet. I'm grateful that we're all well. That we have each other.

Alex brought home stories from customers of how windows blew out of a big grocery store, and of how ceiling tiles came down in a store at the mall, but with no power, it's been hard to get a sense of what's going on in the community around us. But for now, we're safe. In the coming weeks, we'll be stocking up on fresh batteries and I'll be stashing supplies in all the cars and in my office. This wasn't The Big One. Thank Goodness. Yes, it could've been much worse.


Rian said...

Thanks for reporting in. Glad to hear everything's okay. I saw the news last night--6.5 is a biggie.

I'm amazed you were able to make phone calls. Phones are always the first to go.

That's quite a scenario Michael painted. The man has a sense of humor...can you imagine?

Oh, and expect aftershocks.

Debra said...

I'm glad you and your family are safe and sound too. Your story reminds me of Hurrican Ike here 2 years ago. We lived by candlelight and transistor radio for 2 weeks. All the food had to be thrown out of refrigerators and freezers--just an awful mess and we were not even that close to the real action.

It's very humbling, to say the least.

Magpie Sue said...

Ack! I'm so glad to read that everyone is okay. I think I heard about the quake, in passing, on our local news. It didn't occur to me at the time that I knew anyone in the area. It does take time to come down off that adrenalin high doesn't it? Wow. What a wake-up call.

Totally cute hat in the previous post by the way!

Kay said...

Wow! Quite a story! Kohl's wouldn't be my first choice of place to be in an earthquake; actually my first thought was exactly like Michael's. I'm so glad none of you were hurt, especially your son surrounded by glass! A power outage is trivial by comparison, right?

sophie said...

I am so glad to read that you and yours safe. I was once in a big box store in Michigan when a tornado came very close. They gathered all the shoppers in the middle of the store, but it didn't feel safe at all and the noise was incredible. I never want to be stuck in a big store again when mother nature flexes her muscle.

Allison Ann Aller said...

I am glad you are using this as a wake-up call to be prepared for anything bigger that could happen...

That picture of your children around the table by candlelight is incredibly dear....