Hurricane or Earthquake?

on March 19, 2009

Toni, Rocki and I had dinner last night in New York and had a huge argument.

I said (quite emphatically) that I would much rather go through an earthquake than a hurricane.

Rocki looked at me like I was insane. (It might have been the four glasses of wine she’d had . . . ) but she said, “But you don’t know when an earthquake is coming!”

“But,” I countered, “a hurricane is far more destructive.”

Toni, being the diplomat, didn’t take sides. (Okay, she sided with Rocki, but I like to think that she was neutral.)

A California native, I’ve been through many earthquakes, including Loma Prieta and Northridge. In fact, I had a newborn (five days old) and was living one mile from the epicenter when the Northridge Quake hit . . .

The earthquake hit at 4:31 in the morning on Monday, January 17, 1994. If it had been a normal workday–and not a holiday–there would have been far more fatalities.

We were awake when the earthquake hit. Why? Because I’d just fed the baby and she wouldn’t go back to sleep. There was a rolling as I was walking to the bathroom and my husband, who was holding the baby, said, “I think that was an ear–”

All hell broke loose.

I’d been through many earthquakes, many which broke dishes and caused damage, but nothing like this violent shaking, as if God Himself picked up our house and shook it back and forth.

That night, we slept in our Bronco. Me, after a C-section, in the back with the baby, the dog, and the cat. My husband in the front seat. No water, no heat, no electricity. My mom finally got through on the phone and wanted me to stay with her. The next day, Dan reluctantly drove us to the airport and put me and the baby on the plane (we had to lie about her age–babies had to be 2 weeks old to fly) and we stayed with my mom for two weeks. It took a another day for the electricity, but a week for heat because the gas company had to inspect every house.

It was awful, but miraculously, only 57 people died.

Earthquakes are fast, then they’re over. There are aftershocks which are scary, but they are smaller and cause less damage.

Rocki told the story about Hurricane Andrew. She’d just found out she was pregnant. They went to her sister’s house eight miles away, and when they returned to their house the next day, there was nothing. Virtually gone. (She tells the story much better!)

Hurricanes last for hours, sometimes days. Wind and rain and complete destruction. Earthquakes are over in minutes. You deal with the aftermath immediately.

And still, Rocki would rather go through a hurricane.

There are natural disasters all over the world. My friend and former critique partner Amy Knupp once emailed the group from her basement because they were on a tornado watch. Yep, Kansas. Her boys were playing and she was emailing and waiting to find out if a tornado was going to snuff out her house ala Dorothy.

I was freaking out for her. She said earthquakes freaked her out.

Why? Because she knows when the tornados are coming. They can prepare.

Ditto for Rocki.

To me, that anticipation freaks me out more. Good in fiction. Bad in real life.

Take suspense. You know there’s a bad guy, you know he’s planning on killing the heroine. Isn’t that far scarier than having a nice day and wham! the bad guy shoots the hero? Which is scarier?

What you’re anticipating. The hurricane, the tornado. Waiting. Waiting. Is it going to hit you?

I think it’s the “devil you know” — what you’ve gone through, you can handle; what you haven’t gone through, the unexpected, freaks you out.

So I’m interested–what natural disaster freaks you out more? Have you been through it? Is it the devil you know . . . or the devil you don’t? And what about those who have experienced more than one? Those who have gone through both a hurricane and an earthquake?

Which freaks you out more?