Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Earthquake in the Cape!

Sooooo, how was THAT for a first day of the 2011 - 2012 school year? I thought the main drama of the day would be choosing my daughter's outfit for her first day of high school or maybe a fight in front of Cape Elementary over the new dropoff rules, but noooo, Mother Nature had to one up every bit of it with, of all things, an EARTHQUAKE.

And not an altogether insignificant earthquake, even by West Coast standards. This rumbly tumbler was a solid 5.8 on the Richter scale centered in Virginia, and it was felt all along the I-95 corridor from Georgia to New England and then some. Now that's something you don't experience every day, even this girl who grew up an hour from San Francisco. Here's the "shake map" of the event showing who felt what in our area:

I actually didn't feel the earthquake because I was on the road coming into the Cape, but my husband sent me a text from Angler's where he was picking up some fishing supplies. My son (who had not started school yet) served as textographer and read, "Did you just feel that earthquake?" to which my son transcribed, "No, but there are lots of Capers standing out in front of their houses with cell phones in hand looking really confused." Maybe that's not so out of the ordinary, but in large numbers, it was notable.

When I arrived home, my neighbor gave me the play by play of the quake. A quick tour of my house revealed evidence that we had, in fact, experienced an earthquake. These pictures of the "destruction" in my house tell the tale (with captions in case you can't make out the full scope of the devastation):

Crooked Picture

Crooked Picture

Tipsy Barbie

Toppled Book

Deodorant Strewn Off the Shelf

Unhung Mirror Knocked Over

Crooked Map of Annapolis - Kind of Apropos

OK, it wasn't the great quake of 1906, but it truly did shake things up on our typically steady peninsula. My husband's good friend who stopped by Graul's on his way to our place to buy chicken for their fishing outing arrived at the grocery store to find it closed with aisles full of boxes. In an attempt to buy another fishing prerequisite, beer, he learned from the folks at Bella's that they had miraculously only lost four bottles of bourbon (ouch) and a half dozen or so other miscellaneous bottles of booze. ("100 bottles of beer on the wall, 100 bottles of beer, earthquake them around, shake them down, 99 bottles of beer on the wall...").

In the end, it was a lot of excitement with only a very little damage for us in the Cape - a little more so for our fragile historic downtown Annapolis. Even so, it was disconcerting that cell phone communication was immediately compromised due to the high level of airwave traffic, and the roads were jammed with an equally high level of roadway traffic. Parents delayed in that traffic could neither get home to their kids nor make calls to check on them. The Anne Arundel Public School website was not up to the barrage of visits, either. Thankfully, our good Cape neighbors did their part to round up the stray kiddies until their parents could get home safely.

Here's a funny picture from a blog called Boring Pittsburgh:

WTF? Pretty Much Sums It Up

Still, all of this strikes a little fear in my heart for a truly catastrophic disaster. This serves as a good wakeup call for us to spend a little more time on those emergency cards that the schools send home. It's worth seriously thinking through how our kids should get home when we can't get to them and talking to them about what to do until we arrive. As for my household, one small measure we have taken is to install a cipher lock on one of our doors. It's provided some peace of mind knowing the kids don't rely on an easily misplaced key to get in the house.

Where cell phones were unreliable yesterday either for calls or texts, I have to say, Twitter and Facebook never lost a step. Information was flying over social media at the speed of disaster. I knew instantly via Facebook that the quake had been felt by friends and family as far south as South Carolina and as far north as Connecticut. I also learned pretty quickly that my kids were safe at school and that area schools had been evacuated but would dismiss at the usual time. This information has to be taken with a grain of salt and filtered sometimes to get to the facts, but it's an invaluable tool in fast moving situations, especially when mobile phones and websites aren't up to such heavy use.

Following the earthquake, a couple of friends on Facebook posted this article from about the West Coast's reaction to our "quaint" earthquake. It's very funny and makes two good points. First, while the earthquake was not catastrophic by any stretch, neither was it trivial in a location that is not conditioned to this sort of threat. I think all things considered, our levels of alert and concern were warranted.

The day-after assessment is revealing that our area did not escape unscathed. The Washington Monument sustained a crack (I will NOT be superstitious and view that as an omen...), and the Washington Cathedral lost some finials from its spires. Downtown Annapolis also saw some damage to older structures. It remains to seen what other underlying harm might have been done.

Second, I think West Coasters can't fully appreciate the immediate and intense fear that accompanies every boom, bang, and bump that those of us on the East Coast feel or hear following 9-11, particularly in the DC to NY corridor. To a person, it's the first thought that leaps to mind when things shake, rattle or rumble. While the whole country was wounded that day in 2001, I think those of us closest to it geographically experienced a particular level of trauma that is still all too fresh.

DC does not have skyscrapers, but there are plenty of buildings tall enough to have given people a real fright from the swaying and shaking triggered by the quake. Then we had the sight of people running out of federal buildings in fear that brought back vivid and fraught memories of a day that fundamentally changed those of us who watched the horror of 9-11 unfold from just down the road. I think with that as a backdrop, our reactions were justified.

So, that should be enough natural disaster excitement for one week, right? Who gets nailed with an earthquake and say, a hurricane, that close together? Well, hopefully Irene will keep turning to the right like she has with each new update of her track and leave this already shaken part of the country alone. The trend for her eventual path so far has been slowly but steadily eastward. Let's hope that continues.

Still, the track is much too close for comfort, and everyone should be thinking ahead to the possibility of very heavy rain and tropical storm force winds later in the weekend. The winds in particular can mean very high water (or very low water) depending on what part of the storm impacts the Bay. Be prepared to secure your boats or take them out of the water if necessary, and stow away any loose articles in your yards. Have your generators tuned up and get some gas to power them. Heavy rain and wind could mean power outages in the Cape and surrounding area. While we can be forgiven for our lack of earthquake preparedness, there is no excuse for not being ready to deal with a hurricane given the lead time and our wealth of experience here on the East Coast. The devil we know...

Wishing everyone a calmer day and week ahead. Thanks to everyone who did their part to keep our kids and neighbors safe yesterday. When the ground shakes, Capers rock more than ever!


lindsay said...

I love reading your stories!!!!!

Christy said...

Thanks, Lindsay! I enjoy writing them. Hmm, interesting that your comment shows up on my blog under the original title of this post that I changed. I was initially planning to write about how freaky it is that the Cape has had to deal with both hurricanes, tornadoes, and now earthquakes in the 18 years that I've lived here. Seems like too many natural disasters for one area of the country! That title is saved somewhere that I can't see...