Remembering March 11, 2011:
I only noticed the early morning sirens because Tuscany, snuggled up against me in bed, suddenly became tense, her head alert, listening in the dark. The sirens sounded at first like a passing fire engine but instead of growing louder and then fading, the sound kept on going. Just as I became conscious enough to try and react, the sound stopped. Tuscany dropped her head back onto my pillow with a small sigh and I drifted back to sleep.
A couple hours later, I finally came awake for good and began my usual morning routine. I flipped the switch on the coffee pot, fed the cats, turned on the heater and once the mug of caramel-flavored caffine was warming my hands, I settled in to read the news headlines online. There, I discovered that Japan had experienced an enormous earthquake, a geologic shudder of historic proportions.
Now I live in earthquake country and I happen to also live in a tsunami hazard zone. Tremblors and tsunami warnings are nothing particularly unusual but as I turned on the television and watched video footage of black seawater angrily barreling ashore in northeastern Japan, I began to wonder if something dramatic might show up here on the California coast.
At about 6:45 a.m., a fire vehicle screeched into the parking lot outside my apartment building. Red and yellow lights flashed and rotated, throwing sickly color onto the building walls. A loudspeaker declared: "There is a tsunami coming! You live in a tsunami evacuation zone. Please evacuate. This is not a test!" Now I already knew at that point that any waves resulting from the Japan quake were not due to hit our coastline until 7:30 a.m.. We had time. But somehow, between the sirens, the lights, the noise, the neighbors rushing to leave, a terrible sense of panic took over.
My son and I managed to drop Marley into a box but Tussy was vehemently opposed to crating. As a rehabilitated feral cat, she is extremely sensitive to and frightened by loud noise and sudden movement. She hissed and spat and hid and we finally gave up trying to take her with us. We seemed to spin in place, unsure of what to take with us, our voices sharp, unkind, frantic. The unknown was terrifying. We drove away from our home, unsure of when we would return or what we would return to. We despaired over leaving Tuscany, our bird Milo, my son's fish. I thought about my journals. We left without taking much needed asthma medication, warm clothes, food.
In the end, the tsunami activity in our local bay and harbor was noticeable but non-damaging. However, just an hour and a half up the coast, the harbor of my childhood hometown was completely destroyed. A young man was killed, the only tsunami-related fatality in the United States. (He went to the beach to take pictures and was swept out to sea.) All I could think of, was "We had time." In Japan, there was only the earthquake and then a mere ten to fifteen minutes to flee ahead of what was, in some places, a 46-foot wall of water.
Experts say (and they reiterated this after March 11) that a seismic event the size of the Japanese quake is expected here on the Pacific coast due to the highly volatile Cascadia fault line. Note this entry from Wikipedia:
Recent findings concluded the Cascadia subduction zone was more hazardous than previously suggested. The feared next major earthquake has some geologists predicting a 10% to 14% probability that the Cascadia Subduction Zone will produce an event of magnitude 9 or higher in the next 50 years. However the most recent studies suggest that this risk could be as high as 37% for earthquakes of magnitude 8 or higher. Geologists have also determined the Pacific Northwest is not prepared for such a colossal earthquake. The tsunami produced may reach heights of approximately 30 meters (100 ft).
My eyes have been opened since March 11. I realized that I am not properly prepared for a disaster. Coming this weekend, look for a special edition of Lost Coast Studio as I detail what should be included in a "Go Kit" in the event of a natural disaster and/or evacuation. It is something I think everyone should have in their home. Every part of the country experiences its own brand of destructive natural forces, from earthquakes to tornados to hurricanes to flooding to wildfires. A little bit of preparation goes a long way.