After Seattle's 6.8 earthquake struck and our office building in Federal Way (about 15 miles from the epicenter) was evacuated, we resumed meetings at a restaurant in nearby downtown Auburn. I snapped this shot of a commercial building next door which was cordoned off by authorities after it experienced significant damage. (If you look carefully you can see where bricks have plunged to the sidewalk from about 20 feet high on the facade of this older building.)

 

NEWS -- Short Family Rides Out 6.8 Seattle Earthquake!

FEBRUARY 28, 2001 -- Why is it that in two of the three last earthquakes I have lived through, I have been sitting in front of a computer? Hmm. I'm starting to get tired of the rather disconcerting feeling of my computer moving away from me when I haven't moved anything but my fingers.

Oh well, I guess there are worse places you could be during an earthquake. Like the 30 people who were enjoying the view from atop Seattle's spectacular space needle, which gives me the eebie jeebies even when it isn't swaying wildly to and fro and making loud metal popping noises like it's about to rip out of the convulsing earth and take flight.

Anyway, I rode out what seemed like 10 minutes' worth of 45 seconds, cowering beneath my desk and wondering if our steel-and-glass building really was as earthquake-proof as the builders swore to us it was. Toward the end of that 45 seconds, as I began to realize the likelihood of survival was increasing, I decided that their braggadocio was warranted. "I love this building!" I shouted in glee. Various others were shouting things far more profound and in most cases more spiritual. My boss, in the cubicle next to me, was praying at the top of her lungs to Jesus, which was a sound I found far more comforting than the sound of tectonic plates shifting 30 miles under my feet, or the windows making loud metal popping noises all around.

After the shaking subsided and we all emerged from our cubicles, our quick-thinking emergency floor monitor, Carol, urged us to calmly exit the building. We gathered in the parking lot and were informed we would have to evacuate the building for a few hours while they checked out the damage. At least I had the presence of mind to take my cellphone (which wouldn't work for at least two hours) and laptop. If the world is going to end, I at least want my laptop by my side.

Naturally, however, I had to sneak back into the building briefly in order to slip a paragraph about the earthquake onto the World Vision website. (I hate to be scooped.) The radio had incorrectly identified the epicenter as Eatonville, which is a very small town directly south of my brother's house, and I was worried because most everyone I loved was closer to the epicenter than I was. So I spent the next two hours doing what you're not supposed to do after an earthquake ... tying up the phone lines. Inability to get through intensified my worries.

Finally Darlene was able to get a voicemail onto my cellphone system telling me she was okay (she was working at a school in Puyallup which had lost all power and phone service--while the earthquake rocked she huddled in a doorway with five students in her office) and that Nathan had made it home safe (he slipped away from school in the confusion). It took me a few hours to make it home and pick up Mandy. I was glad to discover that the quake wasn't near as bad further south as it was up in Federal Way and toward Seattle.

The good news is that in spite of the magnitude of this very large quake (6.8) it caused only one death, according to the reports, and that due to a heart attack. Several dozen people were injured, but only about 3 seriously. There was billions of dollars in damage; Darlene and I are grateful that our home escaped this.

LESSONS LEARNED

The main need you have in a disaster like this is for communication. It's frustrating to be less than 20 miles away from your family members, each separated from the others, but to be unable to contact them to know that they are okay. After more than an hour of trying, the first person I was able to reach was my dad in Alabama ... more than an hour before I finally got a message from my wife, less than 20 miles away.

My suggestion therefore is that families designate a "point person" to call in case of a disaster, someone who is most likely to be home, a sort of "virtual meeting place." And also designate a secondary.

Secondly, I made the surprising discovery that while phone lines (both land and cell) failed immediately, email and internet networks, for the most part, stayed up. I was able to post news about the earthquake on World Vision's site within about 20 minutes after the quake, and could have done so sooner if I had taken the time before evacuating the building. Thus families who have internet access should designate some sort of message board or other site where they can post real-time messages for their family. In my case, next time I am going to use my own homepage, http://www.LarryShort.com. If there is a next time.

The main memory I think I will walk away with stems from the thoughts that raced through my mind during the first 10 or 20 seconds of the quake. It's a very strange and unsettling feeling to realize that the next 60 seconds could radically change your life, probably will radically change a lot of people's lives; and you struggle with the knowledge that you could be seriously injured, trapped, or even killed. When the line between life and death is that close, it really puts things in perspective. When something like a big earthquake starts, totally without warning, you have no idea how bad it's going to be; it took about 20 or 30 seconds for me to realize that the quake was subsiding and that things would probably be okay. Then of course you start worrying about your family and friends you can't get in contact with, and whether your home is in one piece. It's a challenge to entrust all these fears into the hands of the Lord when you are unable to get in touch with those you love.

UPDATES

THURSDAY MORNING, March 1 -- a 1 a.m. aftershock in the 3.something range woke Mandy up. No one else in the family woke up, but all night long I had what felt like constant dreams about being in an earthquake, neighbors crying for help, searching for loved ones in the dark, etc. I awoke with that typical sense of relief that they were only dreams.

 

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