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My First Earthquake

January 14, 2010

As I read the articles and look at the pictures of the devastation and destruction following the massive earthquake in Haiti, I have memories of the first earthquake I experienced. The 1994 Northridge Earthquake was nowhere near as damaging or devastating as the earthquake in Haiti, but I remember how scared and vulnerable I felt in the immediate aftermath.

In January 1994, when the earthquake struck, I was 6 (a month away from turning 7) and in First Grade. The earthquake struck in the early hours of the morning on what was supposed to have been a one day holiday to celebrate Martin Luther King Day but instead turned into an extended winter break.

Even though the earthquake was a magnitude 6.6, I actually slept through the event; my parents had to come wake me and pull me out of bed. All of my bookcases had fallen over, and there was just piles of stuff all over the floor of my room. In our kitchen, many of our cups and mugs had fallen out of the cupboards and broke and the refrigerator door had opened, spilling food and juice on the floor. Pictures on our walls fell down and the TV in my parents’ room fell face-first onto the floor (This was a miracle TV, though. Not only did the TV not shatter, but it continued to work beautifully for another 10 years.)

I know from looking at the pictures of Port-au-Prince, Haiti that my family was really lucky. My house didn’t collapse, and the most serious structural damage was that our chimney fell off. But when I was sitting in the doorway of my bathroom, in the dark, with my parents feeling all of the aftershocks, I felt so scared. And it took a long time for that feeling to go away; for a long time afterwards, I was constantly terrified that there would be another big earthquake, and it would be the one to knock my house down or kill someone I cared about.

I was very fortunate when the Northridge earthquake struck, but the people who have been affected in Haiti really need our help. Earthquakes are scary business. I chose to donate to Doctor’s Without Borders (MSF), but there are many worthy organizations who are also helping in the aftermath. I hope everyone can find an organization to support.


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