Marolt: The rules for surviving an earthquake |

Marolt: The rules for surviving an earthquake

Roger Marolt
Cluster Phobic
Roger Marolt

We were in an L.A. earthquake last Friday night. That makes two in a row for tremors while on vacation. There was the one last year on the beach in Costa Rica. I thought it was the free daiquiri I didn’t order kicking me to the sand. This time there was no mistaking it. We were in our hotel room on the eighth floor about two blocks from the epicenter and it shook the bejeezus out of us for about 30 seconds. The building creaked and groaned like an old school bus driven over unpainted speed bumps by a substitute driver on a rainy evening.

OK, I admit it — I was a little scared. Just a little. It was mostly because I didn’t know what to do. Get in the bathtub? No, that’s for tornados when you live in a house without a root cellar. Head for the roof? Nope, that’s for floods. Get on the floor and crawl to a door and feel it to make sure it’s not hot before opening it? Maybe just swim with it and then cup your hands in front of your mouth to form a breathing pocket when it starts to slow down like it’s an avalanche. Stop, drop and roll? Get into a low crouch and grab your ankles? Raise your arms to make yourself look big? I truly didn’t know, so we gathered under the doorjamb and prayed. Thankfully, none of us had eaten for an hour before it happened.

It turned out to be a 5.1 on the Richter scale. While I don’t claim to be an earthquake expert, my experience leads me to believe that one in this range, within a tenth of a point or two, is about perfect. The one in Costa Rica was a 5.3.

I understand that earthquakes can be serious. But that implies that they don’t always have to be, either. It’s sort of like thunderstorms. If you are on a golf course and a gigantic dark cloud above you begins to rotate and spit out gigantic bolts of lightning all over the place about every 10 seconds, you have problems, but one that forms a few miles away over a high peak, even though it’s loud and putting on an unbelievable light show, poses no threat whatever. If you haven’t enjoyed one of these from the porch with a cold drink in your hand, you need to.

So, yes, I am making light of the earthquakes I experienced. There was minimal property damage. Nobody got hurt. They were exciting natural phenomena to feel. They were entirely different displays of nature’s power from the devastating ones of much greater magnitude that are deadly.

I met a dude in the hotel elevator the next morning who had been on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland when the quake hit. Apparently he had worked there once and understood the process of the park continually trying to freshen up the familiar rides with new twists. He was in the part where the cannons fire from the ship and splash into the surrounding water. Just as this happened, the quake gave the passenger boats a thrilling jostle while significant waves sloshed and soaked everyone. He said his reaction was, “Right on, Disney!”

The University of Arizona men’s basketball team was staying in our hotel. The players were in the lobby talking about the tremor. They looked a little distracted considering the upcoming game, which they ended up losing by one point. In the pregame show they talked about running down seven flights of stairs when it happened. We weren’t that scared, or maybe we weren’t that edgy to begin with.

There were stories, too, about people in the bar becoming completely silent when things began to shake and then bursting into an uproarious cheer when it turned out to be nothing more than a quick thrill.

I suppose it’s a California thing. They have come to know that most tremors of the Earth are harmless and the ones that once in a while are dangerous can’t be prevented or practically avoided. If you can’t deal with that and step lively while containing the knowledge, you might as well move someplace in the deep Midwest and let nature takes its course most likely more slowly.

Feeling the Earth’s surface shaking is an experience in humility. We do all that we can to keep ourselves safe in this world. When an unfathomable mass shifts suddenly beneath your feet, you understand that what we actually can do isn’t much. The odd thing is, when it happened to me, I felt insignificant and alive to the core — mine, that is.

Roger Marolt is more scared of his own shadow than an earthquake. His doesn’t look like he does. Contact him at


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