I was five and a Utah transplant when the “Big One” happened; needless to say, the events leading up to the earthquake are burned into my memory. At the time, I was visiting my grandmother in Salinas; my parents had divorced within the last year and I bounced between Salinas and Santa Cruz.
Even as a child, I could sense when things didn’t feel right. That day felt agonizingly slow for some reason; perhaps it was because our dogs were acting weird. Or maybe it was because our Indian Summer was coming to an end.
My mom was making dinner, and my brother and I were watching the World Series on TV. Right before the earthquake began, I looked down at this Mickey Mouse watch my mother had given me for safekeeping while she cooked. The watch stopped, and the house began swaying.
This was my first earthquake, I had no clue what to do. I got up and walked into the dining room. My mother grabbed my brother, and ran under the massive dinner table. I stood under the candelabra, shell shocked as my grandmother’s hutch began lurching towards me. My eyes moved from the ceiling to the moving furniture as I could hear my mother’s screams and ultimately, her arm looping around my waist to guide me under the table with her and my brother.
Thankfully, the only thing ruined in the house was my grandmother’s hutch. The concrete floor also had a nice sized crack in it. For a few days after, we had no power and running water. The Safeway by our house had a line around the building with folks trying to buy supplies with cash. A lot of people simply weren’t prepared; no one in our neighborhood had emergency kits.
My uncle came down from his home in the Santa Cruz mountains to stay with us; he said there were stories circulating about entire homes buried under a mudslide triggered by the earthquake. My aunt was coming back from the Bay Area that day, and told us about the Bay Bridge collapsing on people. Late into the night, the adults stayed up and talked around the fireplace about what we should do next. I curled into my blanket and fell asleep to the sound of their urgent voices.
After a few days, things slowly went back to normal. When the Loma Prieta television movie was released, we watched it and mused that it could have been a lot worse. My grandmother bought a huge box of canned goods and supplies for the next “Big One,” but we quickly ate through it when times got tough. We never replaced it after that.
As an adult, I know better. I know we should have an emergency kit, and have an emergency stash of cash. But we don’t; to my knowledge, none of my friends do either. It kind of scares me because I know this area is overdue for a major earthquake. And when it happens, it’s not like you can go up the street and get water with your debit card. So what are we all going to do when it does hit?
By Kathleen J. Smith