Shake, Rattle and...the Un-Pacific NW
At 10:55 AM on this final February day of 2001, Momma Earth had a great case of indigestion under the
Seattle, Washington area. It must have been something she ate a while ago because it was a deep
tummy rumble -- estimated to have been 30 miles deep -- and a strong one -- a magnitude
estimated by official US sources as 6.8. This deep earthquake greatly disturbed the usually
pacific Northwest (apologies to my fellow Canadians to whom this is the Pacific Southwest);
reports say it was felt in Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, both Washington and BC, and as far
inland as Salt Lake City, Utah. The quake definitely rocked us here in Victoria, British
Columbia, some 100 miles north of the quake's epicenter surface point.
I was in my office at the University of Victoria talking with one of my students when it began.
At first, it felt like someone was shaking the pipes or building conduits -- they were, in fact,
drilling in the room across the hall, and there is major maintenance/renovation work around the
building so it was a logical first impression. But as it continued and increased in vibrations, we
looked at each other and noddingly said "Earthquake." Neither of us really moved or considered
shelter during the shaking. We both fell silent and I know I opened up to take in the sensation.
The event lasted around half a minute and reminded me of my train journey across the continent
last summer. The feeling was similar to the back-and-forth swaying experienced as the train
accelerated to cruising speed. I felt no fear or panic, and my first concern was for the dishes and
jars at home in my kitchen.
When the shaking ended, we finished our conversation and went on with business as usual. The
worker across the hall came out within minutes to announce it was estimated to be a 6.2 quake
located near Seattle -- how fast news can be generated and travel these days. (We then found out
the lower two floors had evacuated, and we on the third (top) floor were the only ones in the
On my way home, I had the chance to reflect on the experience and my reaction to it. Why did I
feel so calm? Why did I not even consider taking shelter or leaving the building in case this was
only the precursor to the long-anticipated "Big One."
Now there is no need to tell me of the grave, potential dangers of an earthquake (so no flood of
emails, please). I am a professional earth scientist, and although my head and concerns are
usually in the clouds warning people of the dangers of weather, I know well the dangers of sea
and earth. I have seen the impacts of quakes via the media and read widely on the great
historical quakes, so logically and factually I know the danger potential.
Looking deeper, I saw within me the firm conviction that an earthquake cannot kill me. Now
that is not to say that a brick tossed from a shaking building, or the collapse of one I am in,
cannot kill me, but these are human things, not the quake itself.... Even as I write this, my
"doctor brain" is telling me about landslides or mudslides or avalanches triggered by a quake.
But the another side says something else.
Is it just illogic? Is it suppressed fears? Is it a Virgo's connection with the Earth? Is it my age?
I have a healthy respect and controlled fear of the power of weather even though my logical
brain is torn between this knowledge and its scientific curiosity to better understand the weather
through experiencing it. I have directly experience all manner of weather hazard that could have
ended my life, except tornado (directly) and hurricane. I have been blown off my feet, almost hit
by lightning, pelted with hail and caught in small flash floods, blizzards and freezing rain while
driving, so I am no stranger to natural hazards.
No, there is no logic in my reaction to this event. My feelings are not of being through an strong
earthquake, but of being rocked gently in my earth cradle, a very soothing feeling.
I do pray for the health and safety of those more directly affected by this and other recent
earthquakes around the world. And I hope my loved ones will never experience a worse
earthquake than this one. But as for me....this will take more time to truly absorb.
Keith C. Heidorn, PhD