As promised yesterday, here are some observations about the stories people shared about the earthquake of August 23. These memorable events seem to uncover a human need to share where we were, what we were doing and how we reacted to the news.
The responses of people I talked to and read about shared their experiences with the earthquake almost as if they were answering the same seven questions. The answers, of course, were varied.
The first thing people seemed to talk about was where they were during the during the earthquake. Some people were at home; some were at work; some were driving; some were outside. I heard audible gasps from listeners who heard people say they were at work on the fifteenth floor or the eighteenth floor or at another great height.
Not everyone seemed to answer the second question which was, what were you doing? I happened to remember what I was doing but some people didn’t say. Their responses–folding the laundry, talking on the telephone, working at a computer–formed a clear picture of activities in workaday America these days.
Almost everyone had an initial reaction to what was happening. Some thought the rumble of the earthquake was an extremely low-flying helicopter. Others thought, as I did, that their furnace was blowing up (slowly). Still others thought it was a low-flying jet or loud truck. Several mentioned noise from a washer or dryer. Some people had a secondary reaction: not a few people mentioned that they thought it was the Marines testing weapons at Quantico, as I did.
The next area people seemed to talk about was when they realized it was an earthquake. For me, it was when the deck I was on swayed back and forth. For other people it was when things started vibrating in their house or falling off the walls and shelves.
Reactions once people realized it was a quake were also varied. Some people ran outside. Others hid under desks and table. Alyssa and her coworker stood in a doorway. Amy went to her laundry room. One young woman slept through it all, her mother told me. Californians seemed to realize what was happening more quickly than East Coasters because, of course, of the number of earthquakes California experiences.
People then talked about what they did after the ‘quake. Most tried to call friends and relatives only to find land telephone lines and cell lines jammed up immediately. I texted Amy and Alyssa, and Becky managed to call me. Some tech-savvy young people later told me that texts use a different means of transmission than calls. I did not hear whether email worked or not; Facebook, however, proved a good way to communicate.
The last question was about whether there was any damage. Most people reported none to little; others more, depending where they were.
One curious fact emerged: some people outside during the ‘quake or driving didn’t feel a thing. Others did, and those driving frequently thought there was something wrong with their cars. Some of the effect no doubt depended on the geological structure of the earth at that point. (I can’t say for sure–I was an English major.)
In the sense that people talked about their experiences in similar ways, the earthquake became a shared experience and perhaps an opportunity for increased community. Although there were some positive aspects to the earthquake, I don’t want to experience one again soon, or ever again for that matter.