Well, I think it’s best to start with a little background… I was born in 1979 and my family moved to San Jose, CA when I was four. By 1989 I was 10, and I’d had duck-and-cover drills since kindergarden. My father was also very safety-conscious (it’s his profession), so we’d been drilled at home as well – if the ground starts shaking and you are indoors, get under the piano, stand in a doorway, or best of all, get into the bottom bunk bed (our bunk beds were hand made and pretty special – each post was a solid 4×4 piece of wood, the connecting pieces were 2×6’s – that sucker could have stood through a nuclear attack!)!
When the earthquake hit, I was 10 years old, and in ballet class. It was a fairly typical dance studio – very large open space, a full wall of mirrors, and two of the other walls were floor-to-ceiling windows. In other words, LOTS of glass. My memory is a little blurred, but I remember seeing the floor wave, kind of like the ocean – you could see the shock waves coming. I don’t remember how I felt at the time, but I don’t remember being scared – more excited, I think.
My ballet teacher (who was a newlywed and a fairly recent transplant from – well, somewhere without earthquakes!) did the worst thing possible – stood in the center of the room-made-of-glass and called for all the children to come stand with her. I was normally a very obedient child (at least in formal class settings!), but I KNEW that I was supposed to be in a doorway, so I broke away and ran for it. I really don’t remember it lasting that long, but since there was time to see it happening, ignore the teacher, run to the door and brace there, it must have been more than several seconds…
Luckily, none of the glass in the studio broke, and no one in any of the classes (there were several studios) was at all hurt. However, when went through the lobby of the studio to exit the building, the trophy cases in the lobby were smashed and many of the trophies had fallen out of the cases and were lying in the shattered glass on the ground. I remember picking our way carefully past the shattered glass in our soft-soled ballet slippers…
Again, my memory is foggy. I know we waited for our parents in the parking lot, because that’s where I was when my dad got there. However, I don’t know how LONG I waited for him. I know he’d dropped me off, then gone to my brother’s soccer practice, so he had to drive back – but it can’t have been far because I don’t think I waited long. I don’t remember being scared or worried or anything, but at this point, I may have been. I think by the time he got there, he knew that everyone was OK, because I think I remember him telling me that Mommy (who was at home) was OK and so was everything in my room (so maybe I was worried about my room?)… But it’s all very foggy.
I DO remember my ballet teacher collapsing into the arms of her husband when he arrived and sobbing that she “wanted to go HOME!” And I developed a rather unseemly case of superiority, because *I* knew what to do when the earthquake hit and *I* hadn’t been totally scared like that. I mean, honestly, what was the point in freaking out like that? The earthquake was over, and everything was OK!
Looking back, I still have a little bit of that feeling in me – and earthquakes are part of what I like about living in CA. This may be in part because I’ve never been personally injured, known anyone who has been personally injured, or lost anything more important than a class dish – or it may just be a result of growing up with them, but of all the natural disasters, I really do think that I’m best suited for earthquakes. You go about your life and every once in a while, the earth moves. Big deal! Heck, most of the time it’s kind of fun! It lasts a few seconds, you look around and check for damage, then continue going about your life. Much better than boarding up your window in preperation for a hurricane or hunkering down in a basement when you hear a tornado warning… This may come back to bite me when “The Big One” hits, but of all the natural disasters, I’ll take earthquakes any day! =)
By Vala Burnett
(Go here to read Vala’s father’s memories of Loma Prieta.)
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