As I sit on my patio, taking advantage of the spoils of this perfect Californian day, reading the Sunday paper and taking in the articles on the Japanese disaster, I experience a shudder of recognition – those images, those words could as well be about California.
Inured to the mild rolling and shaking that is par for the course when living here, wishing that the “big one” won’t happen in my lifetime is myopic wishful thinking. Quake faults criss-cross underneath the city and the entire State, the island of Catalina is slowly sliding towards the mainland and, should a quake happen at sea, the beautiful bay I lay my eyes on every single day would be toast.
Yet, I, and many Los Angelenos like me, live with my head in the sand. The earthquake kit in the closet is desperately out of date – if I didn’t die in the quake I would probably die eating those rations and drinking that water. The kit that used to live in my car has long been discarded and never been replaced. I don’t have enough bottled water to last me for three days or enough canned food for that matter. No batteries for the radio. None of the furniture is bolted down, no quake locks on the cabinets or even putty underneath valuable breakables. Just a large stack of candles. I have no plan on how to communicate with my family, knowing full well that phone lines, electricity and internet would be the first to go and cell phone circuits, if available, would be jammed.
Three years ago, touched by the wildfires, I created drills on what to do in case of fire: lists of things that should be packed quickly, phone tree with the neighbours, knowledge of all escape routes, safe meeting points for me and the animals, basic understanding of fire patterns and behaviours. But earthquakes have remained an abstract.
The price we pay for living in the land of milk and honey is an enormous Damocles’ sword swinging on our heads, potentially dropping when we least expect it. Brushing aside doomsayers has become de riguer and, once the Japanese disaster gets booted off the front pages by some other distant catastrophe, we will go back to pretending all is well. I don’t need a geology degree to know it’s just a matter of time and counting on luck is like hoping a meteorite will strike the day of a school test you haven’t studied for. Possible but not probable.