Thursday, June 3, 2010

British Columbia On Edge

IT IS STUCK IN THE BACK OF many BC minds. People are vaguely aware that the Pacific Northwest is definitely not immune to a major earthquake similar to those that happened recently in faraway places.

I can’t remember the year but I do remember the fear when I was a little girl at home in Langley and a significant earthquake struck. I awoke to a thunderous roar followed by the sense of being swept up in a huge ocean wave. Those few moments were beyond frightening. I got to my mom’s bedroom just as the furniture and dishes started to rattle.

My memory is fuzzy but I think my mom told me to stand under the doorway arch. The second the shaking stopped, I ran into her arms for comfort. We waited silently … as if making a single sound would stir some underground beast. Several minutes and a few small tremors later we breathed a sigh of relief.

Looking back, the primary feeling was helplessness. It’s like a car skidding in the snow. Although you know you have to go with the flow, you might avoid a crash depending on how you steer the wheel. In an earthquake situation, where you choose to stand, crouch or run might stop a chunk of cement, wood or electrical wire from hitting you on the head. When the earth starts to rumble, a split-second decision could save your life as opposed to freezing with fear or hiding under the blankets.

BC life includes knowing we are two seconds to two hundred years from the “big one”. Experts suggest there is a likelihood that it will happen in our lifetimes.

Although we have some control over our own destinies and can buy a kit and prepare with water and a battery operated radio, there is minimal personal power should the ground beneath us dissolve. And when I hear leaders say they are fully ready for the “big one”, it makes me think of the cold war era when school kids were told to seek shelter under their desks to avoid the atomic bomb ... a minor solution to a major threat.

The outcome of whether we live or die is in our hands to some extent. But I wonder how much fate plays a role, especially when I hear of the BC family that moved in fear of earthquakes only to perish during an earthquake in another land.

A natural disaster can hit at any time. But since I can’t enjoy beautiful BC moments by pondering on the probabilities for long, I have tucked away these unsettling thoughts into the cornered webs of my mind.


  1. Very compelling description of your childhood experience, Penelope. Funny, just a day or two before this post, Bill and I talked about earthquakes. Neither of us are prepared at all. At school, we do regular drills, and we have a stash of emergency supplies, but like you, I wonder about the role of fate, and have tucked "unsettling thoughts into the cornered webs of my mind." They only emerge for a few moments now and then, but your post, and the excellent links, have started the wheels turning again. What I most appreciated about this post, though, was the glimpse into your always interesting and honest thoughts about the subject.

  2. When Dick told me there was a 5-point-something earthquake during the Toronto Blue Jays game against the San Diego Padres in San Diego last night, I faced once again the thought I'm always pushing to the back of my mind. All of my family and most of my friends are on the west coast, sitting on a fault-line. Two seconds or two hundred years? Of course, I want to think two hundred years when I think of Rob's children, Jodi's children, your beautiful daughter ...the list goes on and on. How could I bear being in eastern Alberta if you and my family suddenly disappeared into a gaping crack in the earth? I want to gather all of you up and bring you home with me, an emotional response with little if any practicality, especially since one member of my family said she'd rather die in BC than live in Alberta. I want to scream, but I understand. I wouldn't have left the BC coast if health issues hadn't taken me to live in the drier interior. I wouldn't have left BC at all if it hadn't been for Dick. Now, however, I suspect I might never go back to living on a fault-line. Such a big threat for BC, such a big subject on which to ponder, so many ramifications. I have to admit my only solution, so far, is to think about something else.


YOUR THOUGHTS add colour to the content and are always much appreciated.