Tuesday, August 23, 2011

On Shaky Ground Or Not

I was sitting at my desk when suddenly I felt and saw it move, then it moved again along with the floor, the ceiling, the walls, the overhead lights and the rest of my office. Everything was swaying back and forth. I heard a female coworker almost shriek out - "What is happening?". I could not see her because the office is divided by cubicles but I heard the hint of panic in her voice. I calmly said "EARTHQUAKE". I did not yell but said it loudly and firmly hoping all would know to take some self protective action. I sat for a moment more then had thought, 'I hope it was not a bomb because if it was a bomb it had been a big one', I thought that because another big wave of swaying movement just rippled on through the steel and concrete of our fairly old and huge building (it takes up an entire city block). It used to be a repair station for trains and was built to literally drive the trains right into the building so it had been built strong and here it was swaying like a leaf in a breeze. I started to get under my desk, as someone else called out not to worry because it was a planned explosion created by a film crew making a movie in the area. No way! I spoke up again and said "earthquake get under your desks"  but I don't know if anyone paid attention. Four years in southern California, living pretty much right over the San Andreas fault, had me knowing this was no movie explosion. Anyway, as someone else pointed out, there had been no sound, just the swaying wave like motion. It lased all of 15 to 20 seconds - maybe 30 but I think that last number a stretch. My guess was about a 5.0 to 5.5. It was over as suddenly as it had started. Everyone and everything was okay.

I spoke to a few folks about it for a few minutes then headed out of the office to get some field work done. I met some interpreters, from my office, in the hall. They were evacuating though no one had made an announcement to evacuate. When I got downstairs, I saw that virtually everyone in our building, thousands of people, had evacuated and crammed the streets. That was virtually everyone except for those on my office's floor. On every other floor there were loud speaker announcements that it had been an earthquake and those folks apparently had been ordered to evacuate. When I got outside, a Con Edison repair truck, parked at a manhole in which the guys had been repairing something or other, had its radio on blaring out the news of a 5.8 magnitude earthquake in Virginia. Wow, and it felt that strong here. Later I learned, that on the east coast, quakes feel stronger over larger areas than they do out west because the bedrock is not fractured by faults as it is in the west thus allowing the energy to travel further with continued high force. It was a ride for a few moments. I hopped in my work car and then took another ride to go do my fieldwork. On the way across Manhattan, I saw the streets were lined with folks who had evacuated their buildings. Some were obviously very scared. Stopped at a light, I saw one woman who had fear written all over her face. I caught her eye and smiled. She smiled back a nervous smile. About then, someone near her told those all around that it had been an earthquake - it had taken long for them to get the word. Until then, I think they must have thought it had been some type of attack because at the word it had been an earthquake - people started to cheer. You could easily have seen - they were all greatly relieved.

I continued on my drive with the radio tuned to an all news station. Seems even the mayor had vacated City Hall, two of the three local big airports had shut down, the FBI offices and federal building evacuated, the Holland Tunnel had been closed, yada yada yada. I headed for the Queens Midtown tunnel and got out of "the city". Traffic was a bit heavier than usual, I guess some others had decided that it was a good day for fieldwork or maybe just to play hooky for the remainder of the work day. I knew one thing, if there were going to be aftershocks, I would rather be outside of Manhattan but of course that was not why I was leaving, that was just a side thought, after all - I had fieldwork to get done.

On a side note, my son got to me, with a text message, before I even had gotten in my car. I had tried calling my family members but Sprint service for the phone seemed to be out, go figure how text messages still went through but they did go through. He asked me a one word question: "Earthquake?" and I replied in the affirmative. He then replied back that he guessed he could put away his AK47, he had thought we had been bombed; I replied: "That's my boy" and had a good laugh over his text message. Later on, when I got home, I learned he had been snoozing and was awakened by his bed shaking badly. He said the whole house was moving and that our dogs had gone berserk apparently along with all the dogs in the neighborhood. We live in a brick house, I have to check the walls tomorrow. Probably fine but I think I should give them the once over for cracks in the mortar. I also contacted my daughter. She was okay. Somewhere along the way to my fieldwork, I was able to get my wife on the phone, I figure after at least 45 minutes to an hour, and 15 phone call attempts, to get her. She was okay, she had not even felt it. That was the story up here, many people were shaken, rattled and rolled - others did not even have a clue that the rest of us had been on shaky ground.

All the best,
Glenn B
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