Awaiting Earth's inevitable hiccup - Metro US

Awaiting Earth’s inevitable hiccup

Did the earth move?

It moved all right. The earthquake happened Friday at 12:42 p.m., a relatively strong 6.4 on the Richter scale, 80 kilometres off Port Alice on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

It was strong enough to break a few dishes, cause a few cracks, wobble a few Vancouver skyscrapers and rattle a few composures up and down the coast.

It was strong enough to induce the Victoria Times Colonist to put an 1,143-word article about it on the front page. When was the last time you saw an 1,143-word article on anything, never mind the kind of temblor that happens biweekly in the City of Angels?

Still, it was strong enough to remind us that the Big One is still out there, waiting to bite. It was the biggest since 2004, when a 6.6 quake struck the same general vicinity. Didn’t feel that one either.

In fact, the only time I experienced an earthquake was in Toronto, of all places, when I was sitting at my desk in the newsroom and all the desk lamps started to sway back and forth. I thought it was a streetcar going by.

You know the Big One is coming, but you don’t know when. Even if we knew, would we be ready? Most of us weren’t ready to get up and go to work this morning, never mind assemble an up-to-date earthquake kit in an always-accessible location, together with a plan for making sure all family members are safe.

Earthquakes breed a kind of fatalism. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I was in San Francisco, where a local TV station had a station ID called “The City That’s Waiting to Die,” complete with a cartoon sun whose expression changed from a smile to a frown when all the cartoon buildings crumbled.

But it wasn’t funny when the Big One hit the Bay Area on Oct. 17, 1989. That was a 6.9 quake and the earth moved for 15 seconds, which was enough to kill 63 people, leave 12,000 homeless and damage 100,000 buildings. No one was laughing.

The governor of California was, however, surprised. “I had been under the impression that the highways had been constructed to deal with any severe earthquake.”

I suspect the governor of California will be surprised again in the not-too-distant future. And I’m also willing to bet that when the earth really moves here, despite the millions sunk into earthquake-proofing, so will the premier of British Columbia.

If it’s anything like the official response to the riot, she’ll just duck and cover.

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