Are you ready? Chapter One · 9.04.15 by colin newell
It is 2:22 AM on the dot when the ground starts to move in Victoria. You are sleeping soundly in your bed and, initially, the noise and vibration doesn’t fully awaken you. Like emerging from an under water dive, you gasp at first as you reorient yourself to the full reality of being awake. By now 10 seconds has passed by and the side to side movement appears to be intensifying. You are now fully aware as the thunderous grinding noises of earth and rock pitched against each other unfold. Everything moves helplessly atop this geologic canvas in a way that is at once fully terrifying and at the same time cartoonish.
Everything that is not tied down is being thrown around as if in a childhood toy box. And now, you are just one of the toys at the mercy of forces both devastating and unseen.
You roll out of bed trying to stand up and as you reach for some clothing in the darkness, you realize that you control nothing – you are entirely at the mercy of this event. It starts and ends when it is good and ready. Through the window and in the street power poles pendulum back and forth, whipping power lines taut. They fracture, power transformers hum, flash and explode in a shower of sparks.
Before you know it you are pushing your way to the front door of your home, oddly still standing, its corridors littered with a lifetime of personal possessions. Common sense mixed with a supreme quantity of fear and dread set in. You remember some of the things you have heard about earthquakes, how most of the injuries occur while fumbling around in the minutes following the shaking. Much to your astonishment, you discover that you have pulled on a pair of shoes because it is a good thing: the floor of your home and the outdoors are layered with broken glass. It’s everywhere.
The suburb where you live has just been hit with an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.2 – the shaking lasted 27 seconds which seemed like much more. As you look around you are struck by the normality of everything on first glance. Nothing fell over, you think. As your hearing starts to kick in amidst the darkness and chatter of neighbors emerging from their homes, you take stock of your immediate surroundings. In the distance you can hear the hiss of broken gas lines, the report of people calling to each other, and even the sound of terror – those alone, staggering into the street wondering what is next.
Your earthquake check list is well established in your head. You instinctively reach for your tool kit that you keep in your car (and an extra set in the garage) and shut off the gas main to the house. Thankfully, there is no water rushing into the street as evidenced by a ruptured water main. Even though you are almost frozen with fear, you keep moving and pushing yourself through the experience.
Your check list scrolls in your head:
a.) Water… got at least a weeks worth in bottles (and lots of beer!)
b.) Candles… check c.) dried food… (enough for a dozen or so neighbors for a week!)
d.) first aid kit… check e.) shelter… house is still standing. It’s summer and I have a 4 person tent. Excellent.
f.) Radio. You grab it on the way out of the house. It’s tuned to a local AM station and has fresh batteries.
The local radio station is running on emergency power. This is your first and primary way of assessing what has happened on a broader scale. Your cell phone is currently a paper weight overloaded by panicked 911 calls and toppled towers. As you divide your attention between the crackling radio and the downtown horizon in the distance, you are overwhelmed by the site of a rising orange glow over the city.
To be continued
Colin Newell is a writer, technician and advocate for emergency preparedness – who is, more or less, prepared for anything nature can throw at him.