Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on August 28, 2014
Imagine if you will (spoken in my best Rod Serling voice), it’s 3:20am on a Sunday morning in the small city of Napa. You’d gone to bed a few hours earlier after enjoying a few glasses of home grown wine while catching up with the latest offering from Hammer Films (THE QUIET ONES; 2014) but just as the onset of deep REM sleep begins to take hold of your body and brain, you’re jolted awake by what sounds like a locomotive crashing into your house. This is followed by what feels like King Kong picking you up and tossing you in the air for 20 seconds. It’s pitch black because there is no electricity in town and you’re being pummeled by your belongings as they fly off the walls and shelves. In the chaos you can hear the shouts and screams of your neighbors and every dog in town seems to be barking and howling in confusion. Your natural instinct is to run outside before the walls come crashing down but you can barely move because your entire house is littered with debris, including lots of broken glass, ceramics and damaged electronics that could easily cause serious injuries. When you do finally make it outside the sound of wailing sirens begins to fill the air. You have no internet connection and phones are barely functioning so information is nearly impossible to come by. This information blackout will go on for another five hours as you attempt to check on your elderly neighbors, look for missing pets and try to find that emergency kit with a much needed flashlight that is buried somewhere underneath the wreckage that you once called home sweet home. Did the state of California just crack in half and break away from North America? Did Godzilla attack San Francisco? Did the zombie apocalypse start? Has a long dormant volcano erupted? These are just a few of the crazy thoughts that will race through your head seconds after the quake. Thankfully you’ll be wrong on all counts but you did just experience the most powerful earthquake to strike Northern California in 25 years.
I was born in California and have spent most of my life here in the Golden State. I’ve lived through many earthquakes, including the Loma Prieta quake that rocked the Bay Area in 1989 and almost took down the Bay Bridge but I’ve never experienced the kind of shaking that I felt on August 24th. I live near the epicenter of the Napa quake and it was the most formidable natural disaster that I’ve faced outside of a raging fire that threatened to burn down an apartment building I lived in back in 2005. I fought that fire, which sent multiple neighbors and two brave firefighters to the hospital, with everything I had. Water hose in hand, covered in soot and ash, I looked like Steve McQueen at the end of THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974) when the fire was finally squelched. But an earthquake is a different kind of monster. You can’t fight it. You just have to ride it out and hope for the best, which is why they tend to reduce me to tears. I might transform into Steve McQueen in the face of a serious fire but in the face of a powerful earthquake I tend to resemble mute Judith O’Dea in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968).
I’m still reeling – shaken AND stirred – but I wanted to share my quake experience here because a few short weeks ago I wrote about Carole Lombard’s impact on my small city and shared photos of the historic Alexandria building in Napa, which housed the cast of THEY KNEW WHAT THEY WANTED in 1939. That beautiful 105-year-old building is just one of the many historic structures in Napa that suffered major damage during the earthquake and it’s going to take months, possibly years, for things to get back to normal around here. At the moment many residents are still without water and the water we do have is not drinkable. Hundreds of pets have gone missing and some schools, senior centers, churches, post offices and businesses remain closed while our only newspaper struggles to bring its citizens important news after their offices were deemed uninhabitable. While it’s easy to imagine Napa as a sort of FALCON CREST (1981-1990) fantasy land populated by rich vintners, award-winning chefs and movie stars, the county is mostly made-up of small business owners, farmers, retirees and many working class men and women much like my own family. They are the ones who pick the grapes, bottle the wine and package it for your consumption. They clean rooms at the luxury hotels and wash dishes as well as serve and cook the food that’s offered at our prized restaurants. I mention all this because I love Napa and the varied people who populate it and the earthquake put all of that into sharp focus for me. I also discovered that no matter how many precautions I had taken I wasn’t prepared for a natural disaster so before signing off I thought I’d share some of my hard-learned survival tips that may help you if you ever happen to find yourself in a similar situation.
Get to Know Your Neighbors: After the quake hit one of the first things we did was check on our elderly neighbors who might need a hand. Thankfully a lot of residents in my neighborhood have known each other for decades so that made things easy but if you’re new in town or have recently moved, it’s important that you get to know who your neighbors are. During a disaster they might end up saving your life or help you dig out from the destruction.
One Disaster Kit Isn’t Enough: In California we’re constantly told to keep a disaster kit on hand in case of emergencies but many of us never do it and if we do, we only have one. If you can manage it try and put together 2 or 3. Keep them in different locations such as in your house or apartment, as well as in your car or garage so if one location is damaged during a disaster you’ll have a back-up plan. If you don’t have a car you might consider leaving an extra kit with a neighbor, nearby family member or friend.
Make Sure Your Shoes Are Easily Accessible: Always sleep with a sturdy pair of shoes next to your bed and if you’re prone to sleeping nude, it might be practical to keep some warm clothing nearby in case you have to make a mad dash for the door in the middle of the night. Shoes are especially critical when you’re trying to maneuver through broken and possibly dangerous debris in your home in the dark.
Keep Your Eyeglasses in a Sturdy Case: If you’re nearly blind like me remember to keep a pair of glasses next to the bed in a sturdy case that can withstand a substantial impact. It’s also smart to keep an extra pair on hand in case something happens to your first pair. I tend to just take my glasses off at night and leave them on top of a book, which can be problematic if your house is suddenly turned upside down. A good case will keep your glasses protected and should make them easier to find.
Have Cash On Hand: In this digital age we tend to use credit cards for everything but they’re useless if local businesses have no electricity. In a disaster you might need emergency supplies such as water or batteries so always make sure you have a reasonable amount of hard cash on hand in case local merchants aren’t able or willing to accept credit cards.
Fill That Tank: If you live in a rural area like Napa without much public transportation it’s highly likely that you own a motor vehicle. Make sure the tank is always full in case you need to get out of town in a hurry and travel long distances.
Don’t Forget About Your Pets: During a natural disaster it’s only natural for human beings to worry about themselves and their immediate family but don’t forget to make emergency arrangements for your pets. If you have small animals it’s wise to keep a pet carrier close by and supply it with food and other needs your pet might have such as medications, etc. If you have larger animals you can still make preparations but consider getting outside help from a local kennel or boarding facility.
Last but not least …
Make sure you have your own Chuck Heston or Sigourney Weaver nearby to pull you to safety or sort out your head when the going gets really tough! And if you don’t, seek one out. Don’t ever be afraid to ask for help or a shoulder to cry on if you need it.
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