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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 61 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Astronomy Picture of the Day

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

EARTHQUAKE! The Sequel

Copyright © 2011 by Ralph Couey

Well, it happened again.  Today, August 23rd at 1:51 in the afternoon, the earth moved.  No, I wasn’t kissing my wife.  Somewhere beneath the rolling hills near Mineral, Virginia, two pieces of the earth’s crust bumped and ground against one another for a little less than a minute.  The result was a temblor that measured 5.9 on the Richter scale.  Southern Californians may be able to shrug off one like that, but here in the relatively quiet east, it was the most powerful quake in 67 years.

We felt it strongly here in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania.  At work, we felt our building begin to sway.  It was a gentle back-and-forth movement that began to fade, but then surged even stronger.  Shelves rattled, plants swayed, chairs rolled. The shaking of the earth lasted less than a minute, the shaking of the building a bit longer.  However the shaking inside my fellow Pennsylvanians may go on for some time yet.

Earthquakes are a rare thing around here, even given the two we’ve had in the last 14 months.  So its not surprising that the local equanimity might have been a bit bruised.

We lived in Southern California for about five years, during a fairly active seismic period.  The first one we felt, a short 10-second magnitude 3.2, was a novel sensation to be sure.  But during those years, we seemed to have detectable shakes every other month or so, sometimes a couple per week.  The biggest one was the one known as the Whittier Narrows quake on October 1, 1987.  That one was initially estimated at magnitude 7.1, but was later downgraded to 5.9. 

We had taken the day off from work and pulled the kids out of school to go to Disneyland.  Weekdays in the fall were the lowest crowds, the shortest lines.  So we were up getting ready when at 7:42 a.m., the house began to shake.  We hustled everyone out of the house into the front yard and waited for things to calm down.  It started slow, then intensified as it surged.  It became difficult to stand as we heard our house shift and groan.  All around us, alarms were going off in cars, in houses, and in nearby businesses.  Finally, the shaking ebbed and stopped.  For the next hour or so, we were rocked by several aftershocks.  Meanwhile, further north in places like Rosemead and Temple City, people were picking up the pieces.  And two people died.  An electrical worker was buried in a ditch collapse, and a woman was crushed by a concrete facade that fell off the parking garage she was fleeing.

So today, when the earth moved once again, I knew immediately what was going on.  What I wasn’t prepared for was its length and intensity.  I admit to a certain phlegmatism when it comes to quakes, having been through more than I could count.  I approach these events with a certain devil-may-care attitude, simply waiting to see just how bad it gets.  In a lesser building, that attitude could end up putting me at risk.  It’s strange in a way.  I preach to people constantly about the danger and unpredictable nature of tornados.  I tell them don’t stick around to watch, just get to shelter.  And yet, an earthquake, which certainly generates much more destructive energy over a wider area than even an EF-5, leaves me almost careless.

Part of that I know is that essential kind of optimism every motorcyclist needs.  When you throw a leg over a machine like that, you have to know in your heart that you’re going to come home safely.  I’m always aware of threats and hazards, but I never think I won’t be coming home.  I don’t get panicky in an earthquake because I always think I’ll survive.  Okay, even I’ll admit that’s kinda dumb.  The other part is that silly male macho thing.  After all, the Man Code states clearly in Article 7, “The Man shall maintain imperturbability even during disasters of biblical proportions, regardless of whether or not he caused them.”  

The planet earth is a dynamic entity.  There’s stuff happening in the atmosphere, on the surface, and deep under the ground, all of which can either bring a pleasant day, or a terrible disaster.  But as inhabitants of this wonderful world, we have to learn how to cope with those unexpected moments when the power of the planet is turned loose on its dominant life-form:  

Us.
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