When you live in an area where the ‘natural disaster’ that people are most accustomed to is a power outage–and we had an unexpected four hour outage yesterday, as an electricity pole and its wires fell to the ground near our neighbourhood–it is very odd to be in the midst of a real potential natural disaster. At around 2pm this afternoon, while my rising second grader was just getting into a tea party with her play date, I heard rumbling over my head as I sat in the kitchen. What were those children doing jumping off the bed? That was my first thought. Then sensed more than rumbling and looked out to see if a large truck was passing by. Then I saw the birds fluttering about wildly and some trees shaking, and I could feel I was moving, too. I knew that feeling. This was an earthquake, and it lasted about 30 seconds.
I have had two previous experiences of quakes, the first nearly four years ago, when I was living in Barbados. The feeling is not pleasant. I quickly tried to remember some of the precautions I had read were advisable and got the children downstairs to be in the archway of a door–this is one supposed option which should leave you with some protected space in case things crumble around you. Neighbours were quickly coming out of their houses and wondering what was going on. I got a call from one of the parents of my daughter’s playdate, who was sitting in a coffee bar not far from the house. “Did you feel that?” I told her yes, and we both understood what had happened. She was not too concerned, once I told her what had I had done with the girls.
My wife, for some reason we may never fathom, had decided to come home early and work from the house. The previous evening she had been dumped by the bus about a mile from the house, as the downed power lines were blocking the route. Today, she was being picked up by her older daughter from about that same spot, as the bus she’d taken did not go all the way to our neighbourhood. When they arrived, they were bewildered why we were all standing in the door way. Admittedly, it was a nice cool day and being outside was very pleasant. My wife and her daughter had no notion of what had happened, and still seemed confused once we explained. I told her that we had prayed and that it was good that she was home, rather than having to deal with a perhaps chaotic evacuation of offices in downtown Washington.
Gradually, the news filtered through that the area had been hit by a 5.8 magnitude earthquake that had its epicentre not far from the ironically named town of Mineral, Virginia area. Its effect had stretched along the east coast, and reports indicate that Toronto, Canada and some parts of South Carolina also felt the tremors. There had been a milder quake last summer, just before we had moved back to the area. But today’s was the strongest recorded in the area.
Life seems to have just moved back into normal gear quickly. The sounds of passing cars suggest that people are heading about their business as usual. Yesterday’s outage seemed to have been more disruptive, closing local stores. Reports suggest that little damage to property had occurred. Our house appears in tact, inside and out; other houses nearby show no signs of damage. We have heard reports of damage to parts of the Washington Cathedral, but our own church, St. Alban’s, which is adjacent, seems to have not been affected. People will be regaling each other with their stories over the next days, at least. We will get a lot of reports about earthquakes and natural disasters over the next day or so, but I wonder for how long it will remain news.
We got calls to check how we were doing and also made calls to our relatives abroad to let them know that we were safe.
But, now, there is the funny feeling of how really unprepared we can be for an event such as a major earthquake, which comes with little or no warning. There is little time to react, and little one can really do to escape the effects if they are major. While we mull over that and wonder if there may be after shocks, we also have to think of our relatives in The Bahamas, waiting in the path of a possible Hurricane Irene. There, people are trying to get essential provisions wherever they can, and battening up properties. But, that’s possible because you have a warning. I hope that by tomorrow, we can read that life there has returned to normal as quickly as it seems to have here.