1994 · earthquakes · Uncategorized

Rocking and Rolling

Jarred awake by violent rocking, I crawled to hide under the bed, before remembering “earthquake, not tornado,” and changed directions to find the nearest doorway.

Lights flashing, Jack yelling and coughing, shrill moaning as the house bucked, and suffocating dust blocking my vision, deafening my ears, and choking my throat. Every sense reacted competing for attention and comprehension.

“What? What? What?” echoed through my half-awake mind as I struggled to make sense of the noisy chaos.

Then silence, a precarious calm, while light from shorted out transformers danced across the 4:31 a.m. sky.

The 10 second, 6.7 magnitude January 17, 1994 Northridge, California earthquake had just ripped through our lives.

The earthquake’s first jolts threw us from the bed to the floor. On hands and knees, we inched to opposite safety zones, me to a door frame, Jack to the nearest closet.

Was he hurt? Could he breathe? What do we do now?  Questions fought for priority, tumbling into each other as I struggled to assess the situation.

“Where are you?” I called.

“In the closet. Where are you?”

We met between my safe doorway and his protecting shelter, grasping each other, hoping sanity would break through our muddled minds.

Jack’s insistence for an emergency plan didn’t look as foolish as it had 24 hours earlier. For the six years we lived in California, I teased in my less than supportive tone as he gathered multiple five-gallon bottles of water, blankets, tools, propane bottles for the small cook stove, canned food, and whatever else he deemed necessary if an earthquake rumbled and rocked nearby.

The ‘just in case’ had kicked in.

Immediate action was vital.

No electricity, find a flashlight

Make one phone call to a loved one reporting our status before lines overloaded.

  • Fill the bathtub with clean water.
  • Maneuver the car out of the garage and around broken roof tiles littering the driveway.
  • Move emergency supplies to a safe and accessible place,

Stumbling around in the darkness, I ticked off the short list of immediate chores before dawn when we could eye physical damage caused by the initial quake and several aftershocks.

As the sun lifted above the hills surrounding the San Fernando Valley, we sat in our Dodge Caravan parked in the street away from falling light posts and erupting water mains seeking news reports to affirm what we knew…this earthquake was big and nearby.

Disoriented and shaking with fear, my muddled mind blocked judgement. Our bodies were intact, but my emotional well-being was cracked and reverberating, impersonating the convulsions playing out beneath my feet.

Sunlight brought visual reality. Houses tilted, driveways cracked, highways toppled and lives lost. Damage and devastation engulfed us. I stared at a war zone.

I debated returning Jack to the hospital where he was being treated for pneumonia 12 hours earlier, but through ragged breathing he insisted he would survive. Besides, who knew if the hospital was safer than our street-parked vehicle.

We slept in the car the next two nights anticipating the calming of upheavals, and avoidance of dust saturating the house with new shakings. Communications with friends and family opened, but the horror of learning 60 people died and 9,000+ injured rocked me.

Unlike most people harmed, dislodged and displaced after the catastrophe, we had 90 percent of our belongings packed for an anticipated and slated exit from the sunshine state.

My resignation letter accepted, bags and boxes stuffed, a moving van reserved, and the van gassed, we were ready to go. Four days after this exhausting and life-threatening cataclysm, I pulled to the side of the road after crossing into Arizona, stepped from the car, and raised my hand in a weary wave of farewell to fires, floods, droughts, riots, and a life changing earthquake, heading east to an unwritten chapter in my life.





15 thoughts on “Rocking and Rolling

    1. Yes, it was a scary and traumatic time. We had already made the decision to leave, and had expected to leave a week prior. But, the company asked me to remain another week to finish a project. I was not able to go back to my office because the company’s offices were destroyed. Those offices were a block from the epicenter.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Your writing is so real that I can taste the choking dust, feel the fear of the earth literally shaking, blink with you as you take in the apocalyptic aftermath and breath with you as you cross the state line days later for safety. You really must have felt you cheated death by a whisker. I am glad you did.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Whoa. I live in Utah, right along a mountain range that contains part of the Wasatch Fault. Recently community and church leaders (separately mind you) have been pressing for everyone to get a 72 hour emergency kit. I haven’t done so, I hope something big crushes me and I die if and when the big one hits here…but your excellent tale has awakened the very real idea that I most probably will survive and should have some stuff together. If not for me, for my dog. Whoa (again). Thanks for the wake up…


    1. I do recommend a supply of things. We were without water for 4 days, and thank goodness Jack had the foresight to plan for that. He had a can opener so we could eat cold beans without cooking, but he also had a camp stove that we used. Supplies at grocery stores were limited because they didn’t have electricity or water either. Tuck iin some washcloths, soap, towels, paper towels, toothbrush and paste. We didn’t need those things because our house remained intact, but the water was a biggie. We shared several 5 gallon jugs of water to friends and neighbors who didn’t have any water.


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