August 7th, 2010


Notes From The Earthquake Zone

This was written soon after the Loma Prieta Quake of 1989. I am going through and typing up old bits of handwritten material.

Tuesday, October 17 5:04 P.M.

My daughter and I were in our rural apartment when it hit. Immediately we knew it was not a typical tremor and so we headed for a doorway. The building was shaking so hard that we could barely keep our balance. We held on to the door-frame for dear life as we watched everything in the apartment fall to the floor. It was all we could do to keep our hold on the door-frame and not be thrown down ourselves.

I hear varying reports about how many seconds it was. It seemed to us at the time that it would never stop. My daughter was screaming and wanted to run outside to see if her brother was all right.

As soon as the earthquake stopped we rushed outside in case of an immediate aftershock. The idea of remaining inside was utterly terrifying. I got the kids into our car and moved the car away from electrical lines. My neighbors were also coming outside. Some were crying. One neighbor had a newborn baby just six days old. She got to her baby a split second before a large television fell down on that spot. Her husband was out on his trucking route. We attempted to comfort her as best we could until he got home later that evening.

We got our first aftershock not long after the initial earthquake. They were to continue every 15 to 30 minutes all night long, and thereafter with decreasing frequency. I can't begin to tell you how unnerving they were. Each one brought back our feeling of terror from the initial quake. We couldn't sleep much for the first two nights.

All the neighbors congregated on the volleyball court--a sandy flat area we play volleyball or baseball on that has no electrical lines over it. We assessed our resources and priorities. Turning off our electricity was of prime importance. Fortunately we had no gas lines to worry about.

Water and shelter were our next two priorities. We looked for containers to collect water in. Pipes were busted so we had to shut off the water line. We have a well with a holding tank--which wasn't full. Shelter would be whatever tents, sleeping bags, and tarps we could get to in our houses. We had to move things on the floor in order to get into our apartments. We were accompanied by the omnipresent fear of another aftershock bringing the building down on top of us.

By dark we had a large campfire going, 3 tents set up, and a tarp laid out for sleeping bags and cushions. Fortunately it was a clear night with a nearly full moon for visibility.

One neighbor listened to the car radio for news and relayed the reports to us. We sat in lawn chairs around the campfire--16 of us. We were still adjusting to the idea that this was as large and widespread a disaster as it was.

The initial news focused on San Francisco and Oakland, much to our dismay. The epicenter was near Santa Cruz and yet we were hearing it referred to as the San Francisco earthquake.


The account stops here. I see that I didn't mention the heat on that day and the next. We were very hot with no fans to relieve us.

The following evening, we made a communal supper with propane stoves and pasta supplied by several residents, plus a salad and some frozen foods that needed to be used up. It tasted heavenly! By the third day, power and water were restored and we retreated to our homes, still uneasy about aftershocks but worn out and irritable. The adrenaline had worn off and lack of sleep caught up with us. We all had a lot of cleaning to do. Everything in my cupboards and fridge had fallen on the floor and much of it was ruined. Eventually we learned that it had lasted 15 seconds. I remember that outside, large trees swayed as if they were blades of grass. I never knew trees could be so supple!

Later I wrote up my own personal list of earthquake supplies. There are things that I'd never seen mentioned in such lists that we sorely needed. I'd also come up with an innovative makeshift toilet. I had some kitty litter, a large bucket, and garbage bags. Voila! Toilet!

(My super secret list added things like paper plates, spare underwear in case it is laundry day, some baby wipes in lieu of washing up with water, spare tampons, and plastic cups.)

Downtown Santa Cruz was mostly destroyed and we learned that there had been deaths. That first night what we mostly heard about was destruction and death in the big cities. Later we learned what had happened in our own town. It took nearly a decade to rebuild Santa Cruz and to this day there are gaps, ground waiting for construction.


ETA: Ramya remembers that the neighbor who saved her baby was hurt because the TV fell on her back as she grabbed the baby. So she was also in pain. :(

Secondary Effects of the Earthquake

On the evening of the Loma Prieta Quake in 1989, one of the concerns everyone had was to contact family and friends and let them know we were OK. We got in touch with my mom and grandma so they could pass on the news to our other relatives. I connected with some friends. Of course everyone was trying to do the same so the lines were often busy.

So when my children asked about their father, I told them at first that he probably couldn't get through. We never had a phone number for him--he guarded his privacy and his location very carefully to avoid paying child support.

That excuse held them for a couple of days, but it soon wore thin.

"When's Pita going to call?" I heard the refrain over and over. Pita is the word devotees use for father.

As days added up to weeks, they stopped asking and subsided into depression. There was no way I could sugarcoat it. Their dad hadn't called to see how they were, if they were frightened, or just be there for them. I'm sure others told him they were OK, but they had no way of knowing that and that wasn't the point. It wasn't about whether he knew they were OK or not. They needed to know that he cared enough to talk to them and comfort and reassure them.

They both exhibited their depression in different ways. Lakshmana started getting into fights. Psychologists now say that boys and men often show their depression as anger and irritability.

Ramya turned it inward and started talking about death in a way that frightened me. She seemed to be severely affected by the aftershocks. At school the psychologist noted that Ramya was drawing barren trees and landscapes, which she saw also as a sign of depression. Finally, in desperation, I arranged for her to go for a visit to relatives in Iowa. I felt the break from aftershocks would do her good--and it did. It also enabled me to spend more one-on-one time with Lakshmana and take him to therapy. We had some sessions together that were very productive.

Much could have been avoided with a phone call.

A couple of years later, Mahasraya did come to Santa Cruz after Lakshmana's bicycle accident and subsequent brain injury. He told Ramya that he didn't call because he'd lost our number. Yet the devotee grapevine was so efficient that 20 minutes after talking to a local devotee about the accident, Mahasraya was calling the waiting room at Dominican Hospital. Are we to believe he couldn't find a single person who knew our phone number? He could also have sent a card--our address hadn't changed.

I remember well when my own father didn't appear in court when I had a custody case with my mom. Not once did he call me to find out how bad things had gotten with her. He knew she had previously abused my half sister by pouring scalding hot water over her hands. You would think he'd have monitored my mother very carefully to make sure she wasn't abusing me. But no, he was nowhere to be found. He sent a message that he would abide by the court's decision.

When will dads wake up and figure out that their absence does real, lasting damage? That absence is as tangible as any abuse--because it is a form of abuse.