It was early in the morning of February 9, 1971 at precisely 6:00 AM Pacific Standard Time. I was half-asleep when I suddenly heard the howling of several dogs in the Santa Monica neighborhood where I lived. Within seconds, I felt the bed and the whole building shaking, accompanied by a deep noise as if the earth was being fractured (which it was). I held on to the mattress for dear life, but found myself on the floor nonetheless.
That was my experience of the Sylmar Earthquake, also known as the San Fernando Earthquake. Ever since then, I have been scared of quakes. Was it a small quake? Perhaps it was the precursor of a much larger quake. The Northridge Earthquake of January 17, 1994 was like that, following in the wake of several much smaller quakes centered in Santa Monica Bay.
Now when I see pictures of the Gaziantep temblor that shook parts of Turkey and Syria, I feel as if the solidity I feel of my footsteps on the ground is a possible illusion. Without warning, the buildings around me could come crashing down, possibly with me in one of them.
This afternoon, I took a walk along the Venice Boardwalk, stopping in at Small World Books to buy the work of a recommended Swiss author. As I looked at the buildings along the Boardwalk, I almost felt the ground under my feet begin to move. I remember the Tsunami Evacuation Route signs scattered around the streets in the area and felt that terra firma within a matter of seconds could sport waves like the sea; and, if the quake was out at sea, a giant wave could inundate the low-lying blocks along the ocean before I could get to safety.
If you’ve never been in a major quake, you could laugh away the small quakes. But after 1971 and 1994, there is no laughing. I am on high alert. Will it rapidly get worse? Or is this just another little memento mori?
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