Virginia Earthquake!

I guess you heard about our earthquake today.

The month before we were in Chicago, we were in San Francisco. I was disappointed that we did not get an example of one of those California tremors everyone talks about as being a routine part of life. The whole city seems constructed to withstand an earthquake, so you really don't worry about it.

Contrast that to Chicago. No offense, but that city looks like it is designed to pancake all of its layers on top of each other as soon as the Earth decides to shake a tiny bit. The fact that so much of the city has stood for so long is testimony to the fact that no earthquakes hit Chicago. In fact, every morning we got up and looked out of our hotel room, I would comment: "Wow! I sure wouldn't want to be in an earthquake in this place," noting especially the layers upon layers of roadways, all on top of one another like some crazy Dr. Seuss picture.

The epicenter for today's quake was about 30 miles from us and just a couple of miles from the North Anna Nuclear Power Plant.

I was in the office at lunch, so no patients were in our waiting room. About five years ago, we'd had a small quake when I had been standing in the exact same exam room and I knew immediately what it was because it made such a characteristic noise.

This one started just as small, but soon became very violent and was actually terrifying. I had time to run outside to see cars in our parking lot dancing around. While inside, it was so incredibly loud. Outside it was quiet, but everything was moving. It started up as a high frequency tremble like a jet arriving and then added a terrible low frequency rolling motion that was unlike anything I had ever experienced. The official line is it lasted 15 seconds, but it really lasted close to a minute because of the strange slow rolling motion. It got more subtle over time, but the cars in the parking lot seemed to bounce more as time continued.

Amazingly, nothing in our office was obviously damaged. Lots of pictures were tilted, though.

At our house, it was a bit different. Patty and Emily were in the house and Patty was convinced a jet was crashing nearby. Emily knew immediately it was an earthquake and took charge. My little study-office area took the greatest hit. All of my Disney statues and framed animation cels came crashing down on each other, leaving a lot of damage and glass.

Patty's recurring comment: "I can't believe how LOUD it all was and it went on forever."

It took about ten minutes for the local radio, which we leave on in the waiting room, to acknowledge something had happened. The announcers were as freaked out as we were.

A lot of things go through your head: "I'm okay. Oh, no! Is my family okay? Where was the epicenter? Oh, no! What if it's closer to Blacksburg where Andrew is?" Text messaging immediately became inoperative. Telephones went like in 9/11: Fast busy signals. Despite this, I got through to Andrew, who was far enough away from the epicenter and driving at the time to be unaware of the event. Those who were driving locally, closer to the action, were more aware that something was wrong, but assumed they had a flat tire or the road was unusually bumpy.

The toughest one to contact was my mother and I got a bit frantic. I could only get the answering machine. What if she had fallen? Finally, after several hours she called me back. She and my sister had been in the car and had not been aware of the quake until it came on the news.

So, anyway, that's our story. It all made me think about my recent trip to Chicago.

Just before the 1989 San Francisco quake, I had been in that city, driving on the stacked freeway that comes into the city. It was the same one that pancaked on itself in the quake, trapping so many. When we were there last month, I was distressed to see that some stacked-layered highway segments remained. It was comparatively small, but it still bugged me. It seemed so dangerous.

...Then we went to Chicago, where it feels like the whole city road system is simply layers of roads, just waiting to collapse on each other. But, they don't have earthquakes in Chicago....right?

...Kind of like we're not supposed to have earthquakes here in Virginia....


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