Of course, the entire world is focused on the impoverished country of Haiti which, even before the horrendous seismic disaster this past week, suffered from multiple socioeconomic problems. Now, the poor Haitians are dealing with meeting their most basic needs, food and shelter, while mourning the loss of their families, suffering from major traumatic injuries and seeing what little they did have taken from them instantaneously in a moment's tremor of the the very earth at their feet. Many of us have no idea what that even feels like, to have the ground shake beneath you, to wonder if the roof might topple on your head, but, those of us who live in
California know, and like the rest of the world, our hearts go out to the earthquake victims in this part of Hispanolia. We have watched in dismay, glued to our television screens, as news has come out of Port au Prince, depicting grim scenes of trapped citizens, crying for help, children wandering the streets, looking for parents who are never going to be able to soothe them again.
Relief is still slow to come and it is hot and humid and miserable and their city is in ruins around them.
The greatest tragedy, of course, is the abject poverty of this nation. Construction was so shabby, without any sort of building standards, that homes collapsed at the first tremor. Even the hospital, schools, and presidential palace were no match for the fury of nature. Hundreds of thousands of people, more than the population of many of our towns and cities, will never take a breath again! Thousands more are suffering in agony from injuries caused during this earthquake. The world is responding but what will happen in the months ahead to help the people recover from all this devastation? There is no one in this nation who will not be suffering from post traumatic stress!
All morning long, I've been preoccupied with thoughts of earthquakes. Living in the San Francisco area, of course, one must give this possibility some consideration. When I first moved here, over thirty years ago, I remember when I felt my first tremor. I was working in the operating room of a downtown hospital, "scrubbed" on a case when the surgical lights began
swaying. I felt the floor move, as it sometimes did when someone was moving a heavy O.R. table down the hallway outside. The anesthesiologist commented quietly, "Earthquake." I looked at him in a panic as the surgeon continued on with the procedure. Finally, in a squeaky
voice, I asked, "What are we going to do?" My knees were weak and I was terrified. The
surgeon looked calmly at me and said, "Well, we're going to finish this operation."
I fully expected to leave work that day to find buildings demolished and streets impassable. However, the tremor had been a 3.6 and had caused no damage whatsoever. I decided to take an earthquake course at a local community college to help overcome some of my anxieties about this whole issue. It proved very interesting and helpful. During the course, we learned how to prepare as much as possible for our own safety in the event of an earthquake, we did a tour of San Francisco and saw some of the areas damaged in the 1906 earthquake and we all had extra credit projects. I got an A on mine. I baked a cake in the shape of California and made different colored icings for all the different earthquake faults. We ate it in our final class.
When we had our big Loma Prieta earthquake, October 17, 1989, I was on my way to the offices of Sunset Magazine in Palo Alto, CA for a big Caribbean Tourism Organization party.
I had almost reached my destination when my car suddenly became difficult to steer. At first, I thought I had a flat tire. Then, I noticed the car in front on me swaying and I realized we were
having an earthquake. I looked about and didn't see any problem with the traffic lights or buildings along the way so I continued until I arrived at the Sunset offices. Once inside, I saw several colleagues who told me a number of wine glasses had broken but the party started. It wasn't until a staff member came out and said she had just seen t.v. news that there had been a major earthquake, and that a section of the Bay Bridge had collapsed, that we became aware of the true disaster. I wanted to get home to my boys, fearing that the freeways might be down. I had no problem making it to Pacifica and all were safe. As I hugged my sons tightly, they squirmed and said, "Mom, it's okay, we just got under the table, like we practiced!
The Loma Prieta earthquake, with a magnitude of 7.1, had a loss of 62 lives, left 3757 people injured and the estimated damage toll was between $6 and $10 billion. The earthquake itself lasted about 15 seconds. The Haiti earthquake had a magnitude of 7 and the estimated death toll is more than 100,000 or higher. The number of injured is in the hundreds of thousands. Nearly all of Port au Prince is homeless.
Today, I looked on the US Geological Survey website at the section on California earthquakes because, in the past couple of weeks, I've felt a couple of tremors. I usually sit at my computer ( my room is downstairs ), waiting to see if the movement subsides before I run outside! I was amazed to see that, between 1-9-10 and 1-16-10, there have been 546 recorded California earthquakes. Of course, most of them have been very small earthquakes. Thirty-three of them,
the USGS listed in bolder print, indicating 3.0 or higher. January 7, 2010, there was an earthquake of 4.1 in the San Francisco Bay area and, on January 10, 2010, there was an offshore earthquake of 6.5 in northern California near Ferndale in Humboldt County. With all this shaking and the horrible situation in Haiti, I've rechecked my earthquake supplies, updated flashlights and batteries, replenished my first aid kit and medications and feel I am prepared as I can be for such a catastrophe. I just pray that none happens.
No matter what our situations are, none of us can be suffering as are the people of Haiti. I hope everyone is doing whatever they can to contribute to support the great need there. If dollars are scare, please offer prayers! As one who lives in what we term "earthquake country" - there, but for the grace of God, go I -