Afterthoughts About the Earthquake of 2018

My return from South America was promptly eclipsed by the massive November 30th earthquake here in Alaska.

I’d landed in Los Angeles from a brief layover in Peru when I turned on my phone to find a flood of texts. The first was from my youngest daughter, giving me a heads up that something “big” had happened. Many others were check-ins from family and friends.

While I felt a little guilty for not being in Alaska when it happened, and a splash jealous for missing the experience, it’s been a fascinating event to witness through the eyes of others.

 I’d never been through a natural disaster, so returning home from a 3 week-long trip just hours afterward was memorable. While we Alaskans are accustomed to our fair share of earthquakes and aftershocks, this one was a doozy at 7.0.

Supermarkets ran low on food and water. Electricity was out in much of the city when I returned. So was cell phone service. Some roads and schools were destroyed. Yet no one died, a great tribute to careful city planning and building codes in Anchorage. There weren’t reports of opportunistic thefts. 

A few things stuck with me.

Each person’s reaction to the same event was unique.

 This reminded me of the birth order conversation I often had during my book tour.

 If a family of four was home together in the same room during the quake, their reactions varied widely, from getting under a table, crying and shaking, or running outside. Their ability to deal with the trauma long afterward was as varied as their responses, often due to their age and role in the family, past experiences, genetic makeup, and other traits and quirks.

Pets were/are and are as impacted by the earthquake as their humans.

Many dogs and cats ran away from home shortly after the big shake. They lost control of their bowels, and some continue to have problems. A doggy daycare staff member told me more dogs have to wear anxiety jackets, and have a compromised immune system from the stress, developing kennel cough at a higher rate. And a friend’s 15 year-old bird died soon after the quake, not due to injury, but due to strain.

Only the worst images were replayed by the media and were then shared in social media, though many people experienced no damage to their belongings or homes.

Don’t get me wrong; there was a lot of damage done. Most everyone I know sustained loss of belongings due to the earthquake. 

Yet it reminds me how scared we become after watching news images, whether it’s on television or the social media shares. Perhaps it’s about an American tourist who died overseas. Or an image of violence, played and shared, over and over.  We become fearful and wary.

We might forget to mention who all emerged safely from this earthquake, who all helped one another, and how grateful we are that no one died as a direct result of such a seismic quake.

After I called my daughter from Los Angeles, and she told me that she and her sister were fine, as were my pets, I wondered about my newly renovated kitchen. Twenty-three years of ugly had been replaced by beauty just before I left on my trip, and I had been over the moon about it. But I knew what a complete jerk I’d be for asking about it long distance.

My plane landed in Anchorage several hours after the shake, and I hailed a taxi. My driver was an African immigrant, small yet loud, and hidden under his oversized red wool hat with a pompom on top.  On the way home, he told me about how it was for him, a relatively new citizen, to be jarred awake from a deep sleep. How he ran outside and fell to the ground, and how he calmed himself, realizing there was nothing he could do to control the outcome.

“We can replace things,” he told me,” We cannot replace peoples.”

It was just the message I needed to hear.

 I opened the door to my place, and looked at each room, saving my new kitchen for last. And though it appeared someone held a raucous party on the second floor and left the mess afterward, my kitchen, my long-awaited kitchen, was undisturbed.

I am truly thankful. 

I’ve heard a number of people say they wanted to leave state after this earthquake. It came without warning. The aftershocks still continue. It was too much to deal with. 

But for me, showing up just after to witness the inspiring recovery efforts, Alaska still feels like a soft place to land.

Thank you for visiting.