Heat of the Moment: American Canyon Earthquake Story
To some extent, we all assume that nothing will ever happen to us and our families. We often think of being prepared, but then we think “there’s so many people in the world… it won’t happen to me.” Honestly speaking, I was one of those people that was ready physically (with my flashlight within reach and an escape route in mind) but didn’t prepare mentally for a potential disaster.
So, at 3:20 this morning when the worst earthquake in 25 years rumbled the ground beneath my bed, I was in a state of shock. Although I could not see, my ears picked up on the posters falling off my wall, the bottles shaking off the dresser, the books dropping off my desk, and my bed trembling violently as if I were on a roller coaster at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom. Half asleep and half awake under my blanket, I did not realize right away that my city was the epicenter for California’s most feared natural disaster. Many things ran through my mind during the initial few seconds: I’m having a nightmare, or maybe there are robbers in my home, or my brother is playing a prank on me… and then finally I understood: this was an earthquake, and I needed to put my knowledge of preparedness into effect.
After the first 10 seconds, I was wide awake, scared, and confused. I could have gone outside my room, but I knew that it would be a big mistake to risk running through breaking mirrors and falling objects (especially the school textbooks and glass ornaments from my childhood that were dropping onto the floor in front of the exit). There was no stable furniture in my room to hide under, so I threw myself in the corner of my room and protected my head using my arms. After the rumbling stopped, I remembered that my parents were out of town. So, I grabbed my flashlight, picked up my cell phone, and ran to my brother (who had slept through the worst of the rumbling but was now terribly confused). Together, we rushed downstairs to join my aunt, uncle, and cousin – all of whom were from India and had never experienced anything quite like this earthquake… then again, neither had I.
Many events followed afterwards. We all rushed outside and – when we thought everything was safe after 10-15 minutes – we proceeded inside our home and “geared up” (jackets, socks, shoes, cell phones, glasses… the works). Within minutes, we had our essentials in hand and we remained near the front door in case we needed to run. I checked my phone to check the facts: 6.1 earthquake 6 kilometers north of American Canyon. We had been right in the center of the earthquake, and now there were dangers of aftershocks. Turns out that we were smart to sit right next to the front exit – an aftershock sent us sprinting out the door and in front of our homes. After the aftershock, we were too scared to return until at least an hour proceeded.
During this time, my phone filled with text and Snapchat notifications from family and friends. Everyone wanted to know if our loved ones were safe. After turning on the TV hours after the earthquake, we learned that we had been lucky – Napa’s old downtown buildings had caught fire and dozens of people in the Bay Area were being hospitalized for injuries. After returning inside, we analyzed our home: many broken mirrors, huge mirrors almost about to fall, trashed rooms (including one broken TV and a printer on the ground), paintings/portraits on the ground, cracks in the walls, a broken outdoor fountain, and even twisted light bulbs. Still, we were all safe. We were lucky.
In the heat of the moment when you think that the world is ending (and when you’re half asleep, you really do begin to think of a possible apocalypse), you feel vulnerable. You don’t stop to grab my most precious possession or the family’s important documents. You don’t pause to get a jacket or check the time. The only thing on your mind is the need to get out and survive.
After my first major earthquake (and California’s first major earthquake in 25 years), it’s important for me to understand what I did right and what I could have done better. We often we try to prepare ourselves based on no experience, but my fellow American Canyon citizens and I now know the terror and confusion of an earthquake despite how prepared and brave people think they are. The following list was not researched at all – I did not log onto any website or consult any handbook for this information. This list is made from my own pure thought and experience this morning. I hope this article inspires you to think about your plan for an emergency. After all, as Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
- Have a disaster kit next to your bed (OR near the house exit if you know you will forget to pick up this kit until you’re out of the room) with essentials. This does NOT have to be an expensive and professional kit! For me, I would keep a bag filled with :
- A flashlight
- An extra set of batteries
- Socks (thick ones that can keep your feet warm)
- Blanket (a small one if you can… it can get cold outside!)
- Water bottles (at least 3)
- Protein shakes/bars (at least 3 or more… much easier than canned food and can openers)
- Gum (helps you think)
- Band-Aids, alcohol pads, and antibiotic ointment
- Spare pair of glasses if you wear them
- Optional: spare key to the car (not to drive, but to sit in if it is cold outside)
- Know where your phone is. Obviously you would not stop for your cell phone if it was life or death, but if you can grab it in a few seconds, it can be a great resource for connecting with friends/family and receiving updates on developing news (especially for aftershocks). For me, I would keep my disaster kit near my usual cell phone “spot” so I can grab both and go!
- Keep a pair of inexpensive flip flops next to your disaster kit (but if your disaster kit is near the house exit, obviously keep the flip flops next to your bed). When you are running out of your home, glass can be a huge concern and a pair of flip flops can save you from a trip to the hospital. I got lucky I didn’t get my feet torn up…
- Plan with your family ahead of time what to do. The most disturbing thing I saw on TV today was a little girl running UP the stairs while things were falling off the walls around her. You should never run through an earthquake in case something heavy knocks you out – it might be the last time you ever run. Instead…
- Talk to each person about where they would protect themselves during an earthquake within their rooms (since we are most scared and vulnerable at night). For me, I would hide in the corner of my room away from the fan and dresser and cover my head with my overstuffed pillow. For my brother, it would be under the sturdy desk in his room.
- After the earthquake, remind each person to put their flip flops on, grab their disaster kit (if it’s next to their beds… if it’s near the exit, remember to pick it up them), and get a cell phone if they can (this can just be one person in the household) before running out of their rooms.
- Decide on a escape route! This is especially important for kids who will almost always run to their parents even if the parents are in danger’s way! We all want to protect each other, but if we can protect our own self by getting to the exit, all of us will be better prepared. This escape route can get very tricky when parents want to grab their kids (of course), so use your best judgement in the heat of the moment and just have a plan ready!
- Never underestimate the earthquake. You may think everything is safe and you can go inside your home, but aftershocks can be very unexpected.