Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Thinking About New Zealand And California's Own Quarrels With Quakes

This molding in my kitchen isn't loose: the wall shifted in the last earthquake. Or maybe it was the roof.

In December we had big ca-chunk! kind of an earthquake that sounded as if it were right under the house. Turns out it was.

It was 2.1 miles beneath the earth's surface on the Monte Vista fault line, directly beneath the intersection of Fremont and El Monte Avenues--or about one long city block from my house. And, although it was just a 3.1 on the Richter scale, it was big enough, and rattled the kitchen window enough, that at first I thought it was a sonic boom.

This all came to mind as I watched the news of the devastation in New Zealand from their 6.3 magnitude quake. That size earthquake is a not-unexpected event in California, and though there is nothing you can do about them and no way one can predict them, the damage in Christchurch, New Zealand does give one pause.

Since our last little temblor I've noticed there is some small damage on the northwest side of this house: the side closest to the epicenter. The kitchen wall above the window shifted enough to put the molding out of plumb:

Just a few feet away, a set of louvred doors are no longer true:

A sliding door in the bedroom is out of whack and closes neatly at the top, but not at the bottom.

And a piece of molding in the entryway is also out of plumb. It isn't loose and it won't just fit back with the other mitred piece: the wall is what is really out of plumb.

The entry is paneled in old, pickled redwood, though I think my father added the molding twenty years ago. That gap--obviously--doesn't belong there.

All this is actually good news. Wood frame houses are supposed to be the safest buildings you can be in (safe as houses?) in an earthquake, since the wood moves and gives, but doesn't break and collapse as do bricks and mortar.

This house has withstood a lot of quakes since its construction in 1952--most notably the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, which was a 6.9. Quite a few things fell off shelves, but the house had no damage at all. My Dad said he actually saw the house move in a sort of a wave (seismologists said the surface wave was a 7.1), but when it was over he took out his level and found that all the corners were plumb again.

He always told me it was much more dangerous to drive a car, than to live in earthquake country. Remembering that now gives me some comfort, as I watch the people of New Zealand recover from their own terrible exception to that rule.

If you want to see what the earth is doing in your town or city, just Google the name of your hometown and the word "earthquake," and Google will list all the recent quakes in your vicinity.

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Don Meuler said...

That is a not-insignificant shift of the wall - I'm surprised the plaster/wallboard didn't crack in the corner. You should feel secure there.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I remember plenty of little earthquakes when I lived in LA. The little ones aren't felt if your driving a car, but I've experienced a few when I was stationary. Once when I was doing a radio show for KLAS FM on Sunset Blvd., the hanging microphones started swinging. It was pretty scary.

peretzklein said...

Hey, that bit about the radio station in LA was mine. How did it get that name???

Robin Chapman said...

I don't know. The comments don't go through me. Did you send it from a hand held device? Maybe it had something to do with that?

peretzklein said...

I'll pass it off as being half asleep...

Oregonized said...

My prayer go out to the wonderful people of New Zealnd as they deal; with the horrific aftermath of mother nature's destructive forces. I grew up in California, so temblors were a routing part of life. I have experience them in both southern and norhtern California, and three major seismic events stand out in my mind: The San Fernando (Sylmar) quake of 1971;Loma Prieta, 1989; and finally, the Northridge quake in 1994. These were all masjor seismic events that shook more than a few rattled nerves. Sadly, they resulted in catastrophic damage and loss of human lives. The most frightening quake for me was the Loma Prieta, which struck the San Francisco Bay region. I worked for a major airline whose office was located in a multi-story bulding at Bay and Powell streets in San Francisco. The fire doors in our office automatically sealed shut, locking dozens of people in the office, while the building swayed rather violently. Fortunately, nobody in our office was seriously injured, though many people were killed from that event. It is a misconception to think that earthquakes in the United States are limited to California, but they can, and do, strike virtually anwhere--not just the coastal regions of our country.