Natural Disasters

San Francisco Earthquake 1906

I live in California, a state which the rest of the country laughably threatens will one day fall into the sea. Natural disasters aren’t really funny. At least, they ought not to be. I think people back east are just jealous of our awesome winters. While the rest of you are digging out your cars from a pile of snow, I’m sitting outside in the sun.

California is prone to earthquakes. Earthquakes scare the bejeezus out of me. I don’t like the concept of the ground moving. The ground ought not to move. We kind of rely on it for doing things, getting places and living on. Almost every other natural disaster comes from above; earthquakes come from deep below. There is nowhere to run. There’s no way to outrun an earthquake unless you happen to have a private plane or a hoverchair right where you are when it hits. Even then, by the time you get in the air, it will probably be too late.

In the ten years I’ve lived here, I’ve experienced a few earthquakes, but never frequently enough that they’ve become second nature. I’m sure there’s some sort of procedure like “stop, drop and roll” that should be done when they strike, but every single time I’ve experienced one, I become a deer in headlights. It’s like time itself has stopped for me; I stand there doing whatever it was that I was doing when it hit until it’s over. Standing frozen or playing dead probably isn’t going to help me much. I’ve got to work on a better earthquake procedure. An earthquake is not a grizzly bear.

I grew up in the Midwest, which has natural disasters like tornadoes. We had tornado drills in school. They mainly involved staying away from the windows and calmly moving to the safest room in the building, which was usually the gymnasium. If we were at home, they told us to go in the basement. My house didn’t have a basement, so I was terrified that one would happen when I was at home and the whole house would go flying into the air, like in the Wizard of Oz, along with errant cows and chickens. Never mind the fact that I lived in the city and there were no cows nor chickens nearby.

Perhaps, had I grown up with earthquakes as my natural disaster and we had earthquake drills in school, I would be a bit more sure of what to do about them, but I’m used to natural disasters that you run inside and take shelter to avoid. There is no taking shelter when the entire earth beneath your feet decides to move of its own volition. There is no warning with an earthquake. The radios and televisions don’t flash alerts that one is coming. Perhaps it’s better that way. There’s nothing scarier than a tornado warning with all that time to fret.

However, even the natural disasters I grew up with never really became second nature to me. I once saw a tornado up close and personal. I was at work and the office was stupidly designed with windows everywhere. It was a glass box. Worse, it was perched up at the top of a hill with no lee so the wind and elements could batter it. It obviously wasn’t designed by someone familiar with tornadoes. There wasn’t really a safest room to go to, so we all had a nice view of the natural disaster. You can tell a tornado is close when the sky becomes an unnatural shade of greenish yellow and the air pressure changes. There’s nothing like the smell of a tornado.

Anyway, this particular time, we were all trapped in a glass building on a hill with an excellent view of a tornado. It was only maybe 200 yards away. It moved straight down the main street in front of the building as if it were a commuter on its way to work. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced. I was terrified. All of that lovely glass shattered, there was a deafening roar, everything shook and flew around, but that was the worst of it. Fortunately, it didn’t take a right turn at our driveway, but kept on moving down the road. It made it to the intersection and went right back up to the sky.

I don’t like natural disasters, but I don’t think many people do. Every region of the world has their own variety. It’s something we all live with, waiting for the other shoe to drop. There’s really nothing that can be done about it. Mother nature rules us all. The best that we can do is prepare for it in our own meager little way. In my house, we have flashlights, bottled water, basic first aid supplies, canned food and a wind-up radio should they be necessary. I hope we never need them.