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Quakin’ in my boots

Loma Prieta Quake, 1989 Third floor now at ground level in SF.

I had a totally different post planned for today, but then at 2:20ish the earthquake hit. Well, of course, now I can’t think of anything else.

It brought back memories of my very first earthquake—and boy was that one a doozy—the devastating Quake of ’89 in the San Francisco Bay Area (aka Loma Prieta Earthquake).

We had just moved to the East Bay two months before and I was an earthquake virgin. On that lovely October day, I was playing tennis with a friend on the high school courts when the shop teacher came running out of his metal shop and headed for the football field.

He didn’t say a word to us, but a few seconds later I was reaching for a ball when the net swayed. I stood up and realized I wasn’t dizzy, the earth was moving!

Not sure what to do, but figuring we were safe where we were, we just sat down on the court and waited it out. To me it felt like being on a big boat, swaying back and forth, and it seemed to go on for a full minute, though I believe the official time is shorter.

We had a steady diet of news for days, a kind of practice for the next fall when I’d be glued to the tube watching for news in the Middle East after my dad deployed. Aftershocks were common, and lasted well into spring.

After that year, I was a hardened earthquake veteran who barely blinked when the ground trembled. The only one that took me by surprise was during class one day. It was a sudden slam, and we all turned around to chew out the person behind us for kicking our desk.

My teacher speculated that it was an explosion of some kind. Nope, just another earthquake. Snore.

But, today’s quake was quite a shock. For one, it was in Virginia, and while no area is immune, this is the first one I’ve felt in the 4 1/2 years combined that I’ve lived here. Not only that, but it was pretty strong. My first thought was that the washer was on spin because it shakes the whole second floor, but the washer wasn’t running.

My son and I were already in a doorway—trying to remove the door in fact—so we just waited it out.

So, another first: my first earthquake on the East Coast. As long as no one’s hurt, I think they’re kind of cool. Just a little reminder that Mother Nature is more powerful than all of us, and every once in a while she has to stick out her tongue and say, “Neener, neener.”

Did you feel it? Got any earthquake experiences to share?

Photo credit: Loma Prieta, California, Earthquake October 17, 1989. San Francisco. An automobile lies crushed under the third story of this apartment building in the Marina District. The ground levels are no longer visible because of structural failure and sinking due to liquefaction. Slide I-8, U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 90-547.

Tell your friends!


  1. Reply

    I thought the same thing about my washer. It shakes and shimmies its way out of the laundry area if the load is too big. I thought it was an unbalanced load until I realized the washer wasn’t running. 🙂 This was my first “felt” earthquake.

    • Reply

      Yeah, our laundry room is on the 2nd floor, and we have a front loader, so when it’s on spin cycle it really shakes the upstairs.

      So, hey, you’re no longer a quake virgin! 🙂

  2. Reply

    We felt it up here. I didn’t – apparently my school building absorbed the shock, but people who were in the older school building felt it. Hubby was in a shop and things started swaying on the walls. Oldest daughter was in an office building in Manhattan and that did some swaying.

    My sister in Philadelphia felt it very strongly. She was in a restaurant having a late lunch. She said it felt like a train going by under her feet but they thought it was people drilling at the quarry down the road.

    My fav earthquake joke from Twitter –
    Fox News claims the Washington monument is leaning to the right, MSNBC claims it’s leaning to the left.

    • Reply

      Mary: My younger son was in a car with friends and missed the whole thing. Had no idea there was even an earthquake until people started texting him.

      Love the joke! Too funny. I liked the one about the devastation in D.C. that was a photo of an overturned lawn chair. 🙂

  3. Reply

    I didn’t feel it as we live in Austin now, but 80% of my friends and family live between DC and Philadelphia, with another 10% spread from Florida to Quebec and Maine. I have friends from North Carolina to Montreal who felt the quake, but none on the west of the Appalachians. I wonder if mountains absorb the shock?

    So far as I can tell, my grandparents suffered the most damage of anyone I know when a couple nicknacks fell off their shelves. Only two of them even broke. (I also saw the lawnchair picture, it was awesome!) Half my friends noticed the earthquake, and half had no idea that it even happened.

    I’m glad you’re all fine, and that there seem to be relatively few injuries in general. For a non-seismically-prepared area, the east coast seems to have held up pretty well. *Knocking on wood over here, just to make sure.*

    • Reply

      Kali: Thanks for knocking on wood. 😉 I’d have to agree with you. I expected more damage just based on how it felt. Our house creaked and ticked (at first my son thought it was raining) and rumbled, but oddly enough my pictures weren’t even askew.

      I think the Appalachians might be the end of the plate or edge of the fault or something. Don’t crashing plates form mountains? I did read that the flat basin east of the Appalachians carries the earthquake waves better than the land on the west coast. I think because they were often a different type of wave, but I’m no geologist. 😉

  4. Reply

    Hi Gwen,

    In LA, earthquakes are expected, but never welcome. First, I’m glad that no one was hurt. When nature is pissed, it doesn’t look at who and why, it just does its thing.

    I was attending Cal State Northridge when the Northridge quake of 94′ hit. I lived in the area and I can tell you, that quake brought a lot of things into focus.

    My university was devastated. The Engineering building was “red zoned” for the remainder of my last semester there. The four story parking lot I used to park in, became a two story mess. Too many people that lived right by campus, some students, some the elderly, lost their lives.

    I have a profound respect for what can happen in an instant.

    But let me tell you a funny story about that morning, because I in sadness, we must find a reason to smile.

    I lived with my parents when I was going to college (free!). When the earthquake hit, I did my best to get to the hallway. It was nearly impossible. The ground was oscillating like waves made of wood and carpet. The world roared like lions had taken over.

    Once it slowed, my mom, brother and I made it to the hallway. But no sign of dad. We called out for him, worried. Then we heard the toilet flush. My poor dad was on the can when it hit.

    “Are you okay, dad?” my brother asked.
    “Yeah. I’m fine. The best part was that for thirty seconds, I had a bidet again.”

    I’ll let you interpret that 🙂

    Be safe!


    • Reply

      Ara: What a scary experience. And a funny one. I believe in finding the humor too, and my intention is never to make light of those who suffer in these events.

      I know a lot of people in the area today had a brief moment of fear that we’d been attacked again (it even crossed my mind for a split-second), and I can only imagine how terrifying that must have been.

      Thanks for sharing your story!

  5. Reply

    I live in the Houston area and have never been in an earthquake anywhere, just a long history of hurricanes (in Florida, Louisiana and here). Technically there are fault lines running through Harris County, but I don’t think there’s ever been an earthquake. We have to settle for windstorms, floods, and the occasional tornado. Glad to hear there were few injuries. But I can well believe it caused a few moments of terror so close to the 9/11 anniversary.

    • Reply

      Thanks for dropping by, Kay! I’ve done floods, tornadoes, fires, and earthquakes, but never a hurricane. I’m okay with keeping it that way. 😉

      • Reply

        We’re a bit torn here this summer: we have had almost no rain this year, we’re on water restrictions, we’ve been over 100 degrees 32 days (EVERY day so far in August!), a new record (4 days per summer is the norm). We could actually use a storm. A small tropical storm. Just for the rain. A real be-careful-what-you-wish-for situation.

  6. Pingback: Some rain must fall « The Edited Life

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