The aftershocks kept coming, sporadic and of varying intensity. We decided to see if any of the radio stations had come back up so we bundled everyone and went out to my car in the garage and sat in the dark with the radio on; the only light was from the radio dial. Eventually we found a station that was able to broadcast, and we listened carefully for every scrap of news we could get.
It was surreal to be in a car in our darkened garage with the light of the dial reflecting off of our faces. Eerie even, but also a good reminder that although we looked ghost-like in that light we were all very much alive and well.
A warm feeling of gratitude came over me, but also sadness as the bad news kept trickling in. Part of a bridge had indeed fallen but not the whole bridge as we’d heard earlier. Sadness and gladness again. A part of the highway had collapsed on itself. More sadness. How bad was the damage or high the death count we silently asked ourselves? No one new.
As exhaustion overtook us, we went back to the house, as I carried our sleeping youngest son in. I believe we all slept in the same bed that night. The aftershocks continued but seemed to lessen in intensity.
One of the toughest parts about big earthquakes is not knowing whether they are the biggest one of that swarm of quakes or just a large foreshock to an even larger one. That tends to make for anxious hours, and sometimes days.
When we awoke, the sun came up as always, birds sang, things looked remarkably peaceful, and the same as any other day. But things were far from normal. We had no electricity or telephone service. We knew that loved ones around the country were getting news showing the worst of the damage and death counts. (Sure enough, we heard later that the way the news mdia portrayed it huge swaths of the Bay Area were devastated—-which was far from true.) We were frustrated that we couldn’t tell people that we were all safe.
Finally, our telephone service returned and we started spreading the word that we were OK, and learning the fates of local love ones. Everyone we knew had made it through safely. We felt a surge of relief and gratitude for the good news.
We figured the infrastructure might be pretty messed up and although we had quite a bit of food and water, I decided to go to the neighborhood market to get more supplies just in case we would be on our own for weeks. The medium-sized market was only about 3 blocks away. What I saw when I got there shocked me.
Much of its merchandise had been thrown to the floor by the quake and every aisle was covered in broken glass and was a wet, sticky, gooey, dangerous mess. I would not have been surprised if the manager had closed and locked the store and posted guards, but to his credit he chose to keep it open so people could buy emergency supplies.
He limited the number of customers in the store at one time and assigned them escorts for safety in the darkened store, and I think may have limited quantities of certain purchases to head off hoarders and ensure that more families had access to vital supplies. He also didn’t raise prices at a time when greed could have driven him to gouge the people who badly needed critical things.
He and his hard-working employees were quiet heroes in my eyes. And my neighbors responded with patience and understanding. There was no looting. I was—and remain–proud of my community.
It took quite awhile for the telephones to begin working again. But it was the power and other utilities that were of particular concern. Strangely, while most of the houses on our street had their power restored within a day or two, a cluster of about 8 houses went without power for a lot longer. Guess which group our house was in?
I think we didn’t get our power back for about 5 days—an excruciatingly long time since we had a refrigerator full of perishables and a large standalone freezer full of rapidly thawing food.
A camping stove was used to cook on and our camping lanterns came in handy at night.
We thought our house had come out of the quake intact with only a couple of things that had fallen off the wall and broken being our only damage. We were wrong. Twice.
We soon discovered some relatively minor-looking cracks inside our fireplace, which is in the center of our home, so I called out a fireplace expert to inspect and ensure it would be safe to use, and if not to repair it so we could begin having fires in it again.
The expert decided to check the chimney while he was there and climbed onto our roof. Our chimney rises above the wall that on one side has our master bedroom and on the other the living room. He yelled down and asked me to come up so I could see something. What I saw sent a cold chill down my spine.
He wrapped his arms around the part of our chimney that stuck up above our roof line and without much effort moved the towering brick structure as it wobbled precariously. It was clear to see that any little tremor could have shaken that heavy brick and mortar structure crashing though our roof into one of the busiest rooms in our house or into the room in which we slept. It had cracked all the way around right at the rof line!
Suffice to say that it was fixed right away and reinforced in such a way to keep that from ever happening again.
We’d survived a BIG quake with the help of several quiet heroes. And for each of them, and for the safety of my family, I’m eternally grateful.