Saturday, January 09, 2010

Earthquake Return

It's been awhile, and the fact that we haven't had a substantial earthquake for some time has been on some people's mind here, including mine. This morning in fact. But I certainly wasn't thinking about it this afternoon when I asked Margaret if she wanted to take a walk on the beach Sunday, which is supposed to be sunny. How about right now? She asked. My concerns were that it was already after four and would start to get dark fairly soon, and whether my car was going to start. But we went.

We were on the beach after 5 when a woman out there with her dog came back in our direction to say that there had been a large earthquake--she was holding her cell phone--and that power was off in Arcata. We quickly headed back, as I kept my eyes on the ocean. (Later, I remembered that while we had earlier been watching a man throwing a stick with his dog, a single wave came pretty far up the beach. That's not entirely unusual, but in this case...)

For as it turned out, the earthquake was out in the ocean. Had it been stronger, and had the right sort of movement, we would have been in exactly the wrong place--a major quake would send a tsunami up that Mad River Beach before the shaking stopped. But though it was a respectably strong 6.5, this quake was 25 miles out, and didn't create a tsunami. Besides, we were still in the parking lot when the quake hit, and we didn't feel a thing.

That's the weirdness of this quake--we didn't feel anything, and nothing was even disturbed in our house in Arcata by the first quake or the aftershocks in the next first hour or so. Houses a few blocks away were without power, but ours was fine.

The most worrisome aspect was, as usual, the lack of good information, and reliable sources for it. Several local TV stations were off the air completely, and only one has anything approaching a news staff anyway. There was nothing on the Internet for the first hour except the Geological Survey statistics. I didn't check all the radio stations--several were knocked off for one reason or another--but stopped at one of the Michael's Media FM stations--all three were carrying the same broadcast--where an announcer, a couple of producers and engineers were funneling information, some of it--very little, really--from authorities, and a lot from people phoning in. This was the only semi-reliable source of information. They were quite good, but this situation is fairly scary anyway.

So I heard stories of power outages in Eureka and Trinidad, of strong shaking at the Bayshore Mall in Eureka (TVs falling, tiles falling from the ceiling, etc. at Sears), and of strong shaking and some road damage up the "mountain" in Kneeland. Concern over gas leaks in Eureka. Some anecdotes about injuries--a rack of guns falling on a man at a sporting goods store in Ferndale, I think--but no real reports of serious injuries or deaths. Some talk of building damage in Eureka, but nothing official.

Looking back on entries here (follow the label "earthquakes") and I've noted several strong quakes in that same vicinity, the Mendocino Triple Junction, where three tectonic plates run up against, under and over each other. That's where the potentially most destructive major quake is likely to occur. Even at 6.5., this one was felt pretty far north and south and east, although not everywhere. What that's about is one of the things that it will be interesting to hear the experts explain in the next few days.

As for what happens next, there's no rule. It's rare but not impossible that an even stronger quake will follow soon. It's more likely that the shaking from that vicinity is over for awhile. Meanwhile, other parts of the country face bitter cold and snow, wind and ice. Everybody's got something.