Early Monday morning, two strong earthquakes awakened the Bay Area. At 5:33 am, a magnitude 3.5 quake, followed immediately by a magnitude 4.0 quake shook approximately 5.5 miles below the surface in El Cerrito, CA. Another mild aftershock was felt a half hour later.
Though the quakes served as a rude awakening and were felt as far away as Santa Cruz, they were relatively minor. Police dispatchers in the surrounding cities received no reports of injuries or major damage. Nearby transit systems and bridges were inspected and given the all-clear.
My friend, Mac (below) was less than 2.5 miles from the epicenter that morning, and his important job of keeping my mother's feet warm while she sleeps was interrupted by the jolt.
Earthquakes are a constant threat in the vicinity of the seismically active San Andreas Fault, but individual minor quakes are only as significant as something like a nearby tornado: sure you pay attention to it, but if it doesn't destroy your house or community, you can forget about it pretty quickly. Here it is just a few days later and I bet most people have forgotten it already.
Every once in a while, though, an earthquake is a big deal. Longtime residents of the Bay Area will certainly remember the Loma Prieta earthquake (a.k.a. the Quake of '89 or the World Series Earthquake) as vividly as others remember 9/11 or the assassination of JFK.
The Loma Prieta Quake measured 6.9 on the Richter Magnitude Scale. The Richter Scale is logarithmic in nature, so each whole number is 10 times as powerful as the preceding number. That makes the '89 quake roughly 1000 times as powerful as Monday's quake.
Because of the timing of the event, the earthquake happened during the warm-up of a World Series game, making it the first major quake to have live, national coverage on television. It was also the event that triggered more long-distance phone calls than any other date in history up to that point. Everyone wanted to know if their Bay Area loved ones were OK.
As, of course, did I. My mother (the one whose feet are warmed by Mac) was unable to cross the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge because of the collapsed section, and took a circuitous route around the bay on public transportation to get home from work that night, along with everyone else in the same boat. A commute that normally took about an hour on the bus ended up taking her closer to seven hours.
Before cell phones, there was really no way for me to know if she was going to be able to come home at all that night. As a ten-year-old who had just experienced a major earthquake, it was pretty scary. I stayed at a friend's house that night, as did my brother. We didn't leave a note for Mom, mostly because we didn't want to remain in the high-rise apartment building longer than necessary, but she knew exactly where to find us anyway. She called our respective friends' houses around midnight when she finally got home.
Twenty-two years later, I can still remember exactly what I was eating just a moment before the shaking started. I can remember the underside of the heavy wooden table under which we took cover. I can remember exactly what the shaking felt like. I can remember the color of my friend's socks as we ran down eleven flights of stairs without stopping to put on our shoes. I can remember debating whether to continue walking to my friend's (one story) house in just our socks, or to risk going back inside for shoes (ultimately, we decided to go back inside for shoes and to rescue the cat). I can remember the exact clothing items I had to borrow from my friend to wear to school the next morning. I can remember looking around at the empty desks of my classmates the next day, and hoping that nothing terrible had happened to them.
And I can remember swapping where-where-you-when? stories for years afterward.