August 24, 2014, 3:20 am PDT. A 6.0 magnitude earthquake struck north of San Francisco, California. It was centered approximately 6 miles from the town of Napa, at a depth of 11 kilometers. I don’t know how long it lasted.
October 17, 1989, 5:04 pm PDT. A 6.9 magnitude earthquake occurred in Santa Cruz County, California. It was centered in the Loma Prieta area of the Santa Cruz mountains, about 10 miles from Santa Cruz. Its depth was recorded between 7 and 20 kilometers. It lasted around 8-15 seconds
I live in Danville, about 75 miles from Napa, in the San Francisco Bay area. In the middle of last night I awoke to the house shaking. It is hard to describe what it’s like to be awakened by an earthquake. It’s like part of my brain can’t figure out what is going on and another part knows exactly what is happening. I’ve been here before. I grew up in Mexico City and have lived in California most of my adult life. For what it is worth, my reflex is not to jump out of bed and find the safest place which in the moment I think only God knows where that would be, because nowhere feels safe to me, but rather I lay there wondering if this moment is the strongest it will get or if it will get worse. It seemed like this question jumped around my mind for a long time…. the longer it went on the more frightened i got. And the force was steady, it’s not like it got any lighter. For a second the thought came…. ” this could get worse…. “. Finally the shaking stopped, and there was stillness! I lay there barely breathing waiting to see if it would start again. The aftershocks…. those low magnitude earthquakes that can keep rumbling through for days, weeks and months. What is ‘low magnitude’ anyway when it comes to repeating earthquakes? When your nerves are fried and you just want the ground beneath you to be solid, like it is supposed to be, and for the buildings to be safe and stay put?
This morning I got up, started my day and saw a friend’s post on FaceBook. He mentioned the earthquake and then I remembered …… and along with remembering last night I went back in time to October 1989.
I was living in Soquel, a few miles south of Santa Cruz, California. I had just returned the day before from a vacation in Hawai’i. I had spent a week with friends on Oahu, and a week with myself hanging out near Makawao and on the Kamaole beaches of Kihei, Maui. I felt completely rested and laid back.
It was a sunny Tuesday afternoon and I was about to get in the shower. My dog Chimayo was in the front yard barking non stop. I decided to go check on him. As i walked on the grass toward him i was knocked off my feet. I couldn’t get back up. I had no idea what was going on. No part of me could understand what was happening! I looked up at Chimayo and called him. He came over, I grabbed his collar and held on. And then It stopped. There was a moment of complete silence and I still had no idea what had happened. I stood up looking around. The first thing I registered was that all the brick chimneys that had been attached to the houses around me were gone. I could not make sense of it, could not comprehend what i was seeing! I heard voices. Neighbors coming out. The word earthquake was spoken, breaking the silence, and I understood. All those fragmented pieces in my mind finally locked in. All this happened in about 15 seconds! No wonder the mind cannot grasp what is happening and make sense of it!
I went back into my house and once again i could not register what I was looking at. The refrigerator had moved away from the wall and all its contents were splattered on the tile floor. Broken glass mixed in with mustard, ketchup, soy sauce and sparkling apple cider covered the floor in this thick dark goo. Broken glasses and plates. Chards of glass scattered everywhere. To this day I only have plastic glasses. For years I had latches on all my kitchen cabinets, even the fridge. I wonder if any of the folks in Napa had them. I hope they did.
There was a large fern in a clay pot on a shelf above the shower area. It laid shattered on the tile floor.
I remembered I was barefoot and stopped Chimayo from coming into the house. My cat ‘Leo’ (short for Leonorilda) was about 16 years old at the time and she was gone. She didn’t come back for days. I wanted to trust that she was burrowed somewhere safe. I remember wanting her to stay away and be safe until I had cleared all the broken glass.
We didn’t have cell phones and the phones were out. On the radio we were being asked to stay off the roads unless it was an emergency. I had no idea how bad things were in Santa Cruz and how my sister Gael and her family were doing. I wanted to know how my family was and I finally grabbed Chimayo, put him in the van, and headed towards Gael’s house. I think it was the first time I ever heard that ‘drone’ emergency sound on the radio and it wasn’t a test, it was for real! It was eerie. I arrived at my sister’s and they were all fine. My nephew Kyle was about 3 years old and slept soundly on the living room couch. After a short while I headed back home.
That night Chimayo and I slept in the van in the driveway outside my house. We slept there for several nights. Many people, afraid to sleep in their houses, were camping outside. The weather was unusually warm which was a blessing since we had no electricity or gas. Gas and electricity repair people came in from all around the country to help PG&E, the local utility company, get the power restored. Some of us got it back in a few days, for others it took a while longer.
The following morning I went into my studio. It was a converted garage next to the house. I had looked in through the window the evening before and could not handle what I saw so I just turned around and walked away. Now I stood in the doorway and felt completely overwhelmed. It seemed that every single art supply I had was scattered on the floor. I had no idea of how or where to start picking up. This paralysis went on for days. Then one day I had this thought to pick up the item that was the closest to the door and that’s how I got started…. one item at time. It was as if I had horse blinders on. I kept focusing on the objects that were right in front of me, and eventually I reclaimed both my studio and the workshop next to it. One little section at a time.
Since we didn’t have electricity, and what ever food was in our fridges and freezers would go bad, the neighbors all got together and we had these amazing food feasts for about 2 days. Barbecue grills were going all over the place! We all came together and supported each other. Those who had the capacity and resources would go over to a neighbor or friend’s house and help. That’s how my kitchen finally got cleaned up. The “where and how do i start cleaning up?” question was answered when i picked up a straight edge shovel in the shed and started shoveling debris off the kitchen floor. For a long time after the quake I would still find little chards of glass sprouting up from the tiles!
The aftershocks were earthquakes in their own right. In the beginning their magnitude was around 4 – 4.5 or so, and they just kept rolling through. There would be several of them per hour and it just kept on. This continued for months. They became less frequent, and less strong, but I never got used to them. I don’t think anybody did. They were random. One day I was at home talking on the phone with a friend who lived in downtown Santa Cruz, about 6 miles away. I heard the quake coming. It sounded just like the rumble of a train and then I felt it pass through the ground beneath me. I told her “An earthquake is coming … it is passing now…” a second or so later she said “it’s passing here now….” it was eerie, amazing, powerful and in some ways incomprehensible. 6 miles in 2 seconds! And this was around February. It had been about 4 months since THE earthquake.
63 people died and around 3,700 were injured. Over the following months and years people fixed, repaired and rebuilt their homes as well as the city of Santa Cruz. For many it wasn’t easy. Dealing with government agencies like FEMA can be very challenging at the best of times and even more so when people are experiencing trauma. My hope is that things have changed with FEMA over the last 25 years and that their agents have received more training in empathic listening with an intention to understand and support people!
The Santa Cruz downtown area, especially Pacific Avenue, was heavily damaged, with several buildings beyond repair. Including Bookshop Santa Cruz, the Cooper House and the St. George hotel. These were landmarks in Santa Cruz. In 15 seconds the earthquake reshaped and forever changed the look and character of Pacific Avenue.
City and county officials made decisions about buildings in Santa Cruz in a way that left many people who had already lost so much feeling frustrated and disempowered. Wanting to be heard and seen and to know that they mattered! For some of us It took a long time to heal from the earthquake and to come to peace with the choices that the local officials made at the time.
Going through the Loma Prieta earthquake was one of the things that propelled me to leave Santa Cruz. I wanted to live in a place that had a low earthquake risk. In 1991 my partner and I moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. That November, two years after the earthquake, our son Andrew/Gokul was born, and it was there that in June of 1992 I first met my Guru, Amma (Mata Amritanandamayi).
To this day when a house or building I am in creaks in a certain way, or the wind rattles a window my body contracts and actually experiences the physical sensation of the house shaking. Breathe……
August 24, 2014:
Today I have been thinking about the residents of Napa. Praying for their well being. I heard that tens of thousands of them have now gotten their electricity back and that thousands still don’t have power. The weather is still warm, thank God for this. The aftershocks continue and they seem to be less frequent with a magnitude in the range of 2. At this time the report says that around 130 people are injured, some critically. The Red Cross is providing a shelter for folks to go to. I hope all the animals who took off find their way to safety. I wish support and comfort for all the folks along with courage and strength to go in and pick up the pieces.
I heard that some historic buildings have been damaged, including the library which is the oldest library in California. I hope the county and city officials will be willing to include the local residents in decisions regarding the fate of these buildings. That all the folks for whom this is home may experience that they matter, and that their voices will be heard.
I am aware as I write this that there are earthquakes, typhoons, hurricanes, tsunamis ….. happening all the time, all over the planet, causing mass destruction and thousands upon thousands of deaths and horrific suffering. I want to hold the uniqueness of every human experience in all its fullness without diminishing it through comparison, and in this find empathy, understanding and compassion for all beings. To hold all beings with gentle care.
Sunday, August 24, 2014
Yes… the memory of it seems to linger on for a long time. Like on a cellular level of sorts.
I appreciate you sharing your experiences. We had a big earthquake here, in 2000 or so, I don’t remember. There was a lot of damage in Seattle, but none in the area that I lived in. But I remember how frightening it was then, and for a long time afterwards.
heartfelt and vivid recollection
Thanks Sri Pati. It all came back so vividly today. So many details that i had not thought about in years!