Sunday, February 8, 2015

Shake, Rattle, and Roll

Elvis wasn’t the only the person to note a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on. Lately, it appears that even more of it is taking place. Kansas residents have experienced plenty of recent unexpected movement as the earth repeatedly shifts under feet and houses. This messes with people’s equilibria and generates questions.

Sunflower state residents expect to read news accounts of tornadoes, blizzards, drought, and occasional floods. To some viewers’ surprise, residents can add earthquakes to the list of events that keep us on our toes. Frequency of these events has increased enough that some reports suggest property owners add insurance coverage and schools implement drills to prepare students. Despite more headlines, seismic movement isn’t new to this area.

Historically, our state has always had earthquakes. Keep in mind people need to occupy a landscape before someone records weather and geological statistics. The earliest record of a strong quake indicates one affected the Lawrence and Manhattan areas on April 24, 1867. The unusual earth movement caused shelved objects to fall, plaster to crack, and stones to loosen and fall from buildings as far away as Manhattan. Ongoing reports of notable tremors in Northeastern Kansas continued into the new century. 

While most of these events occurred in Eastern Kansas, seismic activity didn’t leave out the western part of the state. An intensity V event shook Dodge and Meade in 1904. In 1933, rattling dishes and swaying houses had citizens of Norton County exiting homes, wondering what was happening. A similar event rattled the same locale in April 1961. 

While weather usually dominates regional news, earthquakes claim more headlines as they occur more frequently, especially in the southern part of the state. According to January 2015 records, 79 seismic events rattled communities along the Kansas/Oklahoma border.

These reports remind me of my childhood in Southern California, where earthquakes occurred frequently. While schools in Kansas practice tornado drills, California practices earthquake survival. Instead of herding students to a nearby basement or inside hallway, the insistent alarm signals kids to crawl under the nearest desk or table and to protect the back of their necks with their hands.

I recall the quick shuffling to find a secure place and then the giggles as we looked around the room at one another in awkward positions that often revealed underpants or bare skin, depending on what our friends wore to class. Unlike children in Kansas who have seen the devastating power of tornadic winds, few youngsters in California have seen true seismic destruction. A buckled sidewalk or cracked wall along with items tossed off a shelf are what kids have experienced.

While most earthquakes I lived through were moderate, we lived in Southern California during the1971 Sylmar 6.7 earthquake, an intensity XI event. I recall awakening to a terrible screeching sound that came from the stressed, twisting joints in our house walls. Responding to training, my brother, mom, and I automatically raced to our bedroom doorways where we hung on to the doorjambs as the rocking and rolling continued. Our visiting grandmother refused to join us, saying if she was going to die, she was dying in bed.

After the ground stopped rolling, we picked up whatever had tumbled from cupboards and closets, dressed, and headed to work and school. Throughout the day, students saw playground goalposts swaying like giant pendulums during strong aftershocks, events that follow powerful seismic activity.

On the news that night, we realized people closer to the epicenter in the San Fernando Valley had experienced more devastation. Freeway overpasses with vehicles on them had collapsed as had a portion of a medical facility with resulting fatalities. Though we didn’t have the advantage of satellite news photos, onsite news reporters captured pictures of gas fires that broke out when lines ruptured. This was an enlightening peek at earthquake induced havoc.

While current reports don’t incline me to purchase earthquake coverage for our home, I think Kansans should learn more about earthquake survival and implement drills into the school year so children know how to respond. If nothing else, those under desk and table drills are good for a belly laugh or two.

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