I grew up on the Olympic Peninsula. When I was small, we lived in a double wide mobile home. There was a period when we were regularly having earthquakes that we could feel (and occasionally see). I remember crying each time one hit – and my mother explaining how we can keep safe during them. After one notable one (I’d guess around a 5.0), my mother asked me why I was so afraid of earthquakes. “Because,” I replied, “I know if the house breaks all of the spiders from the attic are going to fall on me.” It was at that point that we realized that I was really afraid of spiders, and not earthquakes. At that point, I actually became very interested in earthquakes, tectonics, geology, etc. We live in an area rich for study of all those fields. Following area seismology became something of a hobby of mine – and still is to this day.
During my freshman year in high school (2000-2001), our pep band got to travel with our boys basketball team to the state tournament at the Tacoma Dome. After the tournament was over, we went over to the Safeway area on 6th Ave in Tacoma to get some food before making the long drive back to the north Olympic Peninsula. My friend Ryan (a girl) and I had gotten Jo-Jo’s from the deli, while Michelle and Larissa got cookies and funfetti frosting. We regrouped at the drink aisle. As we stood there, debating what type of Sobe to get, the ground began to shake. Because we were on an aisle full of glass bottles, the sound was similar to that of the terrible neighbor that takes their glass recycling out at 1 am on a Tuesday.
Now, Ryan was not, is not, and never will be the brightest person out there. Immediately upon feeling the shaking ground she throws her hands up in an exasperated fashion and yells, “WILL SOMEBODY STOP SHAKING THE STORE!” At this point, Michelle starts screaming and pulls Larissa to the ground as they ducked and covered. At this point, I chime in to quell the teenage girl freakout and say, “Guys. We’re having an earthquake. Chill.” No sooner had the words escaped my lips than a Safeway employee comes bolting up from the back of the store screaming, “GET OUT OF THE STORE!! GET OUT OF THE STORE!!”
Michelle and Larissa ran out with the employee. Ryan and I looked at each other, not wanting to shoplift, put our items on the floor and casually walked out. In the parking lot we tried to jump the undulating asphalt – but the wavelength was too great. I remember looking behind me and seeing the school buses bounce off the ground – seeing a good deal of space between the ground and the tires. I remember wondering when it was going to stop – enjoying the sensation – being awestruck by the power.
The next earthquake I felt after that was while I was living in Port-au-Prince, Haiti – it was not the utterly devastating one in 2010 – but a smaller 5.? that struck around 2005. I remember the sound of a ravine side collapsing taking a number of shanty homes and people with it.
Earthquakes still fascinate me – but I am absolutely not in denial of their sheer power. I currently live very close to the Denny regrade, a few blocks above I-5. I question the solidity of the ground beneath me. I keep my three days’ supply of water and first aid stuff easily accessible – but I wonder what good it will do me if my building collapses. While on one hand, I’d say I’m not exactly afraid of “the big one” – I should say in most arenas of life, I do not live in fear of it. However, I do have this twinge of fear that it’s going to strike when I’m not wearing any pants. Again – much like the spiders – I think this says much more about my fear of being exposed than my fear of earthquakes.
That is the end of my story – but I will tack on two abridged stories that I’ve heard in “Remember the Nisqually quake?” conversations.
My friend Steve installs AVL systems. He was performing regular upkeep on the Key Arena jumbotron that day – and he recounted to me that this multi-ton jumbotron (that despite being hung on a pulley/chain system DOES NOT MOVE) was swaying about a foot in any direction.
I’ve also heard from a woman who was working in the upper portion of the Columbia Tower that, “We hardly felt it at all – but the building let out a deep groan.”
That’s all I have to say about that.
By Kim Merrikin