I was six years old, which is strange, because I have a hard time remembering anything else other than this event around this age. I was raised in a neighborhood called Forest Hills in San Francisco, California. Not a lot of people outside of the neighborhood, tourists especially, know the strategic importance Forest Hill has when uttering the word “earthquake.” Considering the neighborhood’s high property values and homes that were built as far back as 1913, Forest Hill is located on solid rock. This solid rock allowed a lot of homes to avoid the kind of damage homes face when they are located on beds of sand (like in the Sunset District). Homes are not built like they were back in 1913. They were made of solid redwood and built with devotion and possessed a personal charm to them once complete. They were creative and situated just right, which does not correlate with how homes are built within San Francisco today. Now contractors and developers just build wherever there is space, claiming their designs are earthquake proof, negating that such a word “earthquake proof” may only refer to a medium sized earthquake in today’s standards.
As I was out by the detached garage at my grandmother’s home, the earth below me became violent, and gravity became even more evident once I was thrown off of my feet. As I landed on the ground, I felt helpless and vulnerable. The concrete pavement moved up and down at its grooves with such force, I felt like I was in an ocean of never-ending waves. I remember asking myself, “When will this end?” I was afraid, but not to the point where I was in a panic. There is one thing you have to understand about living in San Francisco: it’s the city of reincarnation. It burned down before, and was rebuilt. It was abused and pummeled by the forces of nature, but people love the city. When you love something, you just don’t leave it.
Now in the yard, after making my way from the driveway, I knew I was safe. Shy of being sucked into the ground, there was nothing that could fall on top of me other than the huge trees across the street, which were insanely enormous and heavy. After everything was over, there were only a few minor articles that were damaged, but nothing too extensive.
The point about earthquakes that I am trying to make is, if you understand them, and you understand your priorities, you most likely will make it through an earthquake in a much better state than someone who puts these issues in the back of their mind. Remember, earthquakes themselves rarely cause the demise of a human being. It is the structures humans build and the formation of living spaces that correlate with lifestyles that cause death. Even if someone lives in a home that has a solid foundation, is built from superior material, and is free from the destruction of falling debris, those around you will flock to such areas when faced with much worse.
The question that San Francisco has to ask itself is an irrational one, “Where will my inhabitants flock to when the city is burning to rubble?” And, “Will my inhabitants universally carry each other through these rocky times?” Dating back to the last major earthquake in 1906, such ideas of following order during chaos were not obeyed. The United States army was called in, not to mediate chaos, but to contain it. There is no doubt in my mind that a city with 850,000 people will, in unison, work together during actual chaotic events that place them in a position where they have lost everything they worked hard for. Other factors are unpredictable, like governmental response plans. They seem good on paper, but are far from perfect when put to use in an actual catastrophe.
By A.J. Harwood