Sunday, January 10, 2010

Heave Ho

There was a woman quoted a few times in various papers saying that the 6.5 earthquake we had yesterday was nothing compared to the 7.1 Loma Prieta earthquake that struck Santa Cruz and The Bay Area in 1989. While it is true that the Loma Prieta was a much larger event, caused more damage, and affected more people, for me personally, the 6.5 yesterday was a much larger event.

At the time of the Loma Prieta I was within a half mile of the epicenter. I was outside though, so I was in no real danger. My home suffered almost no damage, and I didn’t lose a day of work. I’ve spent the morning today cleaning up plaster and right now there are a half dozen PG&E trucks across the street trying to find a broken gas line.

The damage to my house was confined to one corner. It seems like south-east corner of my house heaved up more than the rest. For the most part, the plaster damage is confined to the first floor of this south-east corner of the house. That is the foyer, stairwell, and the front wall of the dining room. Some of the skim coat popped off the walls in the kitchen, but that has more to do with the crappy skim coating job.

The Loma Prieta quake lasted 15 seconds. The one yesterday was more like 25 seconds. The last 10 or 15 seconds were very surreal. For the first 2 or 3 seconds of an earthquake you are coming to terms with the fact that you are in an earthquake. The adrenaline surges and you are acting purely on instinct. It is difficult to be subjective and really be aware of what is going on. You simply try to grab on to something.

Most earthquakes only last a few seconds, so they are over as soon as you realize you are in one. The adrenaline has rushed, the flight response kicks in, and by the time you are at the point of panic it is all over. With an earthquake like the one yesterday, after about 7 or 8 seconds in you realize this is not an average earthquake. That is about the time the major jolt hit and it felt like an airplane dropped on the house.

Yesterday, I was in the kitchen when it happened. When the big jolt hit, I was thrown to the floor and the TV came flying out of the cabinet. I grabbed for it and caught it just as it reached the end of the cable and electrical cord tether. By this time plaster is falling and I hear glass break. I’m in front of the eHutch and even though I know it and the big Frankenstein hutch are bolted to the wall, my instinct is to keep the eHutch from falling over and crashing in to the island. I let go of the TV and let it dangle while I grabbed on to the eHutch.

By this time I’m on my feet and trying to survey the damage and see if anything is about to hit me. Things are still moving a lot. This is when it gets very surreal. Both chandeliers are swaying violently and the walls are torquing and swaying back and forth. Unless you are doing hallucinogenics, large, inanimate objects should not appear to move like this. The walls torquing is what caused the poorly done skim coat to pop off the walls in the kitchen. That went on for what seemed like 10 or 15 seconds, but it could have been shorter.

As soon as everything stopped moving I ran to the garage to get a wrench. If there was a gas leak, I needed to shut off the valves at the meters. There is one shut-off for the house and then 3 for the apartments. After that I checked the water meters to make sure they weren’t spinning wildly. Fortunately, I had no leaks. I then walked around the exterior of the house to try and find out where the glass was that I heard break. I also just wanted to make sure everything was in one piece and still plumb. At least one house slid off its foundation yesterday. The breaking glass sound was faint, so I thought it would be upstairs, but I saw no broken windows. Later I would find that bricks from the dining room chimney had toppled off in the attic and broke a piece of old waving glass that was leaning up against the chimney. I then walked around the apartments to survey for damage there. Fortunately I found nothing there, as well.

Like I said, the real damage is at the front corner of the house. It seems like that part of the house was lifted differently than the rest. The dining room, stairwell and foyer all suffered major damage to the walls, and the chimney in the dining room also took a hit. In the butlers pantry on the outside wall you can see where the paint is cracked at the seams of the beadboard towards the dining room side of the room. It is like the boards slid past each other vertically a little. I also had a piece of trim at the top of that run of beadboard pop off. On the outside, the only odd thing was the garage doors. Of the two that face the street, the one on the left always stuck a bit when you tried to open it. It no longer sticks, but now the door on the right won’t close properly.

When an event like this hits, everyone in the city suddenly has a common bond. Everyone has a story and they want to share it and most want to hear it and share theirs. Today I was outside filling in some dirt along the new sidewalk when a man walks by. I had never seen him before and I’m not even sure if he lives in the neighborhood. Naturally we started to chat about the earthquake. I’m not sure who brought it up first, but we both began to talk about the Loma Prieta earthquake back in 1989. Long story short, not only were we both living in Santa Cruz in 1989, but we were both on the campus of Cabrillo college at the time of that earthquake. He was in the pool playing a game of water polo and I was walking from my car to the main campus. I just looked at a map of the campus and by my estimate, 20 years and 3 months ago, this man and myself were within a hundred yards of each other during the Loma Prieta earthquake and now we are both 400 miles north going through another large earthquake. Now that is surreal.

I wonder if our proximity to each other is what is some how causing the earthquakes.


Gayle A. Robison, DVM said...

Well I was wondering what you had been up to since October. That desk in the kitchen alcove is PERFECT. And at least we know what you are going to be doing all winter and spring: plastering and painting.

So sorry to hear about your damage and I hope it's not all too much. Your house and hard work inspire me constantly.

I went through the Northridge quake very near the epicenter, and the community took a long time to rebound. The quake itself was frightening, and gave me PTSD for a while, and the physical damage to my "stuff" was heartbreaking (picture antique porcelain turned to powder). I know what you are going through.

HPH said...

So sorry about the damage done by the quake. You have worked so hard and created some beautiful stuff. I hope it is not too discouraging.

I was so afraid you were going to say the broken glass was the big round red glass from the stained glass window in the front. Whew. It's okay and you are okay.

Hang in there.

Anonymous said...

jeez, greg, i'm so relieved that you're okay, and so sad that the lovely green lady took a hit.
you and that guy have got to stop meeting like this.

Nancy said...

Isn't it sad that I also first thought "Oh, no! Not the DINING room!"...

So sorry that it took a major quake for a flurry of posts, but glad that you are OK and the house came through without extreme damage...

I've also gone through a few major quakes, so I know that it could have been so much worse. My first house took major damage during Northridge and its aftershocks, including partially sliding off the foundation... :(

Kristy said...

I don't live in an area that is prone to earthquakes, although when we got a small one last year or the year before it freaked the hell out of me.

Glad to know you are safe and that the house has survived overall, just goes to show you that these old houses are in it for the long-haul.

Dave said...

I'm glad you are OK! The Loma Prieta quake was 20 years ago? Wow, instantly I feel old. I cant believe it was so long ago now. Seems like it happened just 5 years ago or something.

I think SoCal is definitely due for a major shake soon enough too.


StuccoHouse said...

Wow being northern, It's interesting to read about what happens during a quake. Glad everything made it out ok at Petch House. Bummer about the plaster and other damage. Kind of funny because a few weeks ago, I noticed your water heater strapped to the wall in a photo (I was buying a water heater at the time) and it took me a sec to figure out why.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this 1st hand account! Glad you survived intact and the house hostly so...and that is totally bizarre about that guy and you!

Laikabear said...

Hi Greg, I am glad you are blogging again (though sad about the reason for the last 2 posts). Did your house have any damage to the foundation? Is it bolted to the foundation? Do you have earthquake insurance? Lots of questions from a fellow (So)Californian.

I've owned my tiny 1929 house for 2 years and this year decided to go for the insurance. Though it's not for moderate damage with a $27,500 deductible! My house isn't bolted and I'm thinking about doing that in Fall 2010.

I'm really sorry about the damage to the dining room (couldn't it have been something that wasn't finished?!!).

I hope you told that guy to get out of your yard, neighborhood, and town! :)

Greg said...

When ever I'm in an earthquake now I can't help but to think of the Star Trek Voyager episode where the ship gets trapped in the atmosphere of a fast evolving planet. The ship wreaks havoc on the planet below in the form of constant earthquake activity. Because of that, the civilization adapts with buildings that have a higher use of steel and iron when compared to other civilizations.

You do need to adapt in earthquake country. Strapping water heaters and large, free standing pieces of furniture becomes the norm.

I don't have earthquake insurance now, but I had it on my last house. I had a $15,000 deductible. At that house I spent a lot if time tying the roof to the house and the house to the foundation with metal straps and Strong Ties. That place wasn't nearly as well built as this place. Not that I don't think about doing it here, though.

This house is still sitting on all of the original post and piers from 1895 and is surprisingly square and plumb. That is probably why I have never spent any time working on the foundation. With so much work to do it is hard to justify fixing something that ain't broke.


Donald said...

Hi Greg, Sorry to hear about the quake. Glad youer OK and hope there`s no structural damage.

slateberry said...

OK, I can ask a trivial question because I know it's all better now. Was I agape and aghast at the damage? Absolutely. But I was also agape at the push-button switch plate cover. Did you get it from House of Antique Hardware? Or do you know of a less expensive source? I ordered the same ones in the antiqued finish, because they really look right with my old doorknobs, but seeing yours, I'm thinking I should return what I haven't installed yet and get unlacquered brass and let time take care of the rest. Do ever see an idea on a blog and second-guess yourself like this? Reading yours, I get the sense you're less vulnerable to that than I am...sigh!

Greg said...


Boy! Read on and you'll see that I second, third, and forth guess myself. For me, paint colors are the worst.

I have found this style of plate on a few sites and I'm sorry to say the prices are all about the same.

I originally thought about the smooth, antiqued brass but they reminded me too much of the 20s and 30s. The original switches looked nothing like either. They were small, round, surface mount switches about the diameter of a silver dollar. It's too bad no one makes reproductions like.