Twenty earthquakes happened under my town yesterday. The biggest one was under the posh community of Diablo, three miles from here. They are calling it a swarm of quakes.
The quakes are just big enough to get your attention or wake you from your slumber. The dogs don’t like them. The tremors are noisy, as the house comes up and sets back down. You hear them more than feel them. A similar swarm in 1991 on the same fault line felt like fists punching the underside of the house.
These jolts are unlike my first earthquake — the 6.9 rolling Loma Prieta quake of 1989, where the floor was undulating underneath me for fifteen seconds as I stood on the upper level of a split level house one hundred miles away from the epicenter. I wasn’t sure what it was until I saw the kitchen chandelier swinging.
A swarm of quakes is a series of little jolts that last a second or so each and happen over a period of days or weeks.
One way to look at it is that these small quakes are releasing pressure on the Calaveras fault that runs under our town. Another way to look at it is that it is a prelude to a bigger magnitude quake. Either way, it’s a reminder to put fresh batteries in the flashlights and to stock up on water and non-perishable food.
My native California friends can sleep through the swarm. I am Iowa born and raised, so for me, not so much.
Since we were away over the holiday weekend when the swarm started, today was my sister’s first earthquake, and second, and third, and fourth. But this swarm, so far, is nothing much. I hate to think how I would be able to move her out of the house in a real emergency. And grab the dogs, too.
The nightly news said my town has had sixty quakes so far in this week. The biggest one was during my neighborhood walk with Daisy, the rescue dog. Right before I heard the shaking houses and felt the punch under my feet, many dogs were barking from various yards. Then boom! My Jack Russell terrier swerved off the sidewalk and into the street. I thought of my sister and hurried home.
“Did you feel that one?” I asked, running in the door.
“Yes,” she said.
Later, she told the doctor she was scared.
“But you have twisters in Iowa,” he said. “Here we have earthquakes.”
My sister didn’t say anything.
“Every part of the country has something,” he said, “ hurricanes, mudslides . . .”
“It’s a good reminder to get prepared for the big one,” I said. “All we can do is be ready.”
On the way home from the doctor, we called our mom from the car for her 88th birthday.
“You don’t have to worry,” Mom said to my sis. “Earthquakes are just part of living in California.”
My sis wasn’t buying it. She’s a pretty smart gal. No one can predict when the next big one will occur. The Hayward fault is overdue for one, and the San Andreas fault had a quake in 1906 that brought San Francisco to its knees with first crumbling and then fires.
Unlike a tornado, there is no warning system for earthquakes. Unless you count the barking dogs, who seemed to know what was coming before I did.