I lived on the Central Coast of California and I have a few earthquakes under my belt — nothing too crazy — I think the most was 6.5 on the Richter scale. I was definitely aware of the earthquake. I lived in a 3 story townhouse at the time and I was on the middle floor and was home from work that day. I recall being faced with a dilemma — save our Christmas tree or run upstairs and make sure the 39 cent goldfish “Ahi Tuna” remained safe and sound. I headed up the stairs to the top floor and I recall being amazed at how much the building swayed. Ahi made it — I grabbed his bowl before it fell off of the bookcase. Success.
My boyfriend at the time came home from school and asked how I was doing and I was so proud that I saved Ahi from a brutal demise, of which I was greeted with a lecture from a Turkish national who had survived several very deadly earthquakes. According to him the key is to get out of the building. In fact, earlier that day he had a friend from Turkey, who was attending the same university, actually jump from a bathroom window for fear the university’s building would collapse with the 6.5 quake. Poor guy.
I of course scoffed at his concerns because after all we were in California and our building codes were superior… It’s not like buildings collapse from earthquakes in our region?!?! (See CNN article documenting the deaths from the older building collapse) Oh, the hubris. He was right. This was the turning point where I realized that we are all vulnerable — some aspects of protection are based on pure luck while others are based on how we choose to respond when the ground begins shaking.
What did I learn from this experience?
- Don’t rely on the building code
- Secure your bookcase and if you are worried about something valuable (even if it’s a 39 cent goldfish, keep it close to the ground)
- Make a sound decision to either duck and cover (if it’s a new building) and if it’s un-reinforced masonry then make a call to get out of the building as soon as possible. This is your call — size up the building and determine what works for you. (Again, I am no expert – it’s purely up to you)
- Find someone who has been through a larger earthquake to give you sound advice
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