Episode 2


As I sat on the wet gravel and dirt where the path had been, staring at a cellphone that could only tell me the time of day, I noticed my hands were shaking. The horror had stopped. The ground was still. I was not dead or bleeding. But my central nervous system was still set to code red-- heart pounding, chest heaving in air by the lungful.

I waited until I was sure my 67-year-old legs could keep me vertical. It took me a couple of tries, but I got those legs underneath me and staggered to my feet. My legs were still shaking.  I sat back down, taking deep, slow breaths and trying to calm myself as I looked around at the landscape the quake had rearranged.

There was nothing calming to see under the leaden, still-sprinkling sky. The once-stately trees on the bluffs above Padden Creek were all awry. The parking lot was chunks of asphalt. The seismic jackhammer had been thorough. You could have scooped it all up with a front-end loader.

In the middle of that was my little Honda, leaning downward into the mess, its alarm blaring. I pulled the key out of my jeans pocket and pushed the red button for silence. One small bit of control amid the chaos.

Then I looked toward the wreckage of the tennis court, where that woman and her daughter were sitting too, hugging and crying a soft, barely audible cry, almost in harmony. I felt envy. I wanted to hug and cry too. I wanted not to be a retired newspaperman whose wife died last year, with grown son and daughter on the other side of the country. But then I felt glad my kids were on the other side of the country.

I wanted to reach out to those crying strangers on the tennis court, to give and get help, but it seemed so impolite to intrude. Then I realized how silly it was to worry about that.

I got my feet under me again and took a few clumsy steps toward them. I got as far as the mangled chain link fence, hung onto it, and stood there absurdly shy, hoping they would look up to acknowledge me. They didn’t.

Then I felt cold water seeping into my shoes. I looked down and saw what looked like a spring bubbling up under my feet. It was the broken waterline that had fed the drinking fountain at courtside.

I stepped away from the water and called out.

“Hello? Are you two okay?”

Mom looked up with a start, eyes wide, mouth open.

“I think so,” she said.  She was still breathing hard. So was I. She gulped, gasped and gave her daughter a squeeze. “Are you okay, Melissa? Does anything hurt?”

Melissa, about 10, kept her face buried in her mother’s shoulder at first, clinging as hard as she could. Then she looked up, panting too, and looked at her right leg. There was a red scrape along her outer calf. Melissa scowled at her scrape, but she looked like an active kid who survived worse, most summers.

“I’ve got a first aid kit in my car,” I said. “Is your car around here?”

“No,” mom said. “We walked down here from Wilson Avenue.”

“I live over that way too, on Larrabee Street. I drove over here with my dog.”

“Where’s your dog?” Melissa asked.

“I don’t know. She ran away when the earthquake hit.”

“Is that what it was?” Melissa asked.

“I guess so,” mom said. She saw that her daughter was shivering, and hugged her tighter. Mom was shivering too, and I realized they were both cold, in their lightweight black polyester sports gear.

“I’ve got a blanket in my car too. Let’s get it, and put a bandage on that scrape, and head back home.”

We made our way the few steps from the courts to the parking lot. I looked over to the spot where the broken pipe had wet my feet, expecting to see a growing pool of water. There wasn’t one. The water wasn’t flowing.

I worked my way to the back end of my car, stepping over the protruding chunks of asphalt. I pulled out my key again and pushed the button to pop the trunk. Nothing. Keyless entry not working. It actually took me a few seconds to find the old-fashioned keyhole I had never used before. To my relief, the trunk opened, although the lid seemed a tad askew.

I grabbed my old green blanket and handed it to Melissa. I found the first aid kit and handed it to mom.

“I’m Susan,” she said as I put the little plastic box in her hand.

“I’m Bill.”

Neither one of us smiled.

Susan popped open the plastic box: a roll of gauze, a tube of antiseptic ointment, adhesive bandages and tape, and some alcohol wipes sealed in foil. She ripped one open. Melissa shrank away, the way my kids used to do when they saw me coming at them with one of those things.

She handed the wipe to Melissa, who took it in one hand while she grabbed her mom’s hand hard with the other. She clenched her eyes shut, gritted her teeth, and gave her scrape one fast but firm swipe with the alcohol. They had done this before.

“Once more,” Susan said. Melissa swiped again and handed the lightly-bloodied wipe back to her mom, who applied a layer of ointment and taped some gauze over the scrape.

I pulled a brown nylon duffel bag out of the trunk. Inside was an old hooded black sweatshirt that I handed to Susan, and some foil-wrapped granola bars that had been in there for a while.

There was also an empty plastic water bottle, a couple of lightweight nylon jackets, and a birding guide. Elsewhere in the trunk was a hank of nylon rope, a roll of paper towels and a fire extinguisher. I put it all in the duffel. I left the birding guide inside the duffel too--useless but comforting. Then I got my compact field glasses and flashlight out of the glove compartment.

“Let’s head home,” I said.

Melissa had gone back for the tennis gear. She rounded up the stray balls and put them in her own duffel bag, along with the two racquets. Useless but comforting. She slung the bag over her shoulder and rejoined us.

I wondered when they would use those tennis racquets again.

Do you have emergency supplies in your car, in case the quake hits when you’re way from home?


Popular Mechanics has a comprehensive list:


Suggestions: Blankets, first aid supplies, drinking water, emergency food, flashlight, extra batteries, extra clothing, rain gear. Dog food.

Episode 1


“I never thought it would be this bad.”

I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve heard somebody say that since the big quake finally hit us.

I know I’ve said it to myself a few thousand times.

We all knew it was coming. The local paper, the Seattle TV stations, NPR--they all ran reports with the same buzzwords:  Subduction zone. Magnitude 9. Tsunami. The reports all ended the same way, with experts warning us to be ready. Stockpile food and drinking water, they said. We all shared that stuff on Facebook, and then joked about it.

But I did keep a couple of big plastic jugs of supermarket drinking water in the basement. I had a good flashlight with extra batteries. I stashed away three boxes of Minute Rice and some backpackers’ foil pouch dinners from REI.

Then, just last week, I was down in the basement trying to box up all the stuff that needed to be thrown out or given away. I saw a jagged hole in the cardboard box that held my rations. Inside the box: shredded packaging, scattered grains of rice, rat droppings. I hadn’t known there were rats in the basement. I had been meaning to buy replacement rations, and a big strong box to put them in.

It was about 10 o’clock Tuesday, a cloudy April morning with a bit of sprinkle. I was walking my shepherd-lab Daisy along a crushed gravel path in Fairhaven Park, just a few steps from the parking lot. I had her leash in one hand and my phone in the other, scrolling through Facebook posts with my thumb, ignoring my surroundings. Then Daisy snapped me out of it, flattening her ears and making a weird growling noise I had never heard before. At that same instant, every seagull along the bay to the west began to shriek. It reminded me of one summer’s night years ago, when a loud thunderclap overhead had jolted all the sleeping seabirds awake.

Then there was a sudden thump and a vibration under my feet. Wow. Earthquake!

It was a single jolt, nothing like the vibration I remembered from 2001, when the Nisqually Quake rattled the windows for several seconds.

The seagull racket intensified. Daisy was straining at her leash.

Then the ground lurched sideways. I fell hard and landed on my right side. I dropped the phone, and let go of Daisy’s leash without meaning to. She ran away. I managed to get onto my hands and knees as the ground beneath me heaved in slow-motion, watery swells, rolling me first one way and then the other.

Then the ground softened, and I felt myself sinking into soil that had seemed dependably solid seconds before.

Why doesn’t it stop? When will it stop? Oh my God, it seems to be getting worse.

I could hear horrible creaking, groaning, ripping noises to the north, where my house and my neighbors’ houses were being twisted and shaken.

The chain link fence around the park tennis court was rippling and shuddering, making metallic grinds and squeaks. A woman and her daughter had been on the court hitting tennis balls. Now they too were on all fours, scrambling in the middle of a gaggle of fluorescent orange balls that rolled and bounced one way, then another, as if alive.

The big Douglas fir trees at the edge of the park had come to life too, lurching, twitching, flailing as the earth heaved beneath them.

The park’s asphalt parking lot pulled apart, then came together, grinding and disintegrating.  I saw my blue Honda sinking down front end first into the debris. The whole park seemed to be sliding toward Padden Creek.

Is this how I’m going to die?

No. The shaking tapered off. It stopped. I lay on my stomach gasping. There was one more shudder. Then stillness.

The earth, at least, was still. But there was a lot of noise. All the crows and seagulls were crying. The robins, the jays. Every dog was barking. I hoped one of them was Daisy. I called her name a couple of times, but she was nowhere to be seen.

Mixed in with all that I heard humans. Distant shouts. Screams. People calling their kids, their dogs. And a chorus of car alarms.

Then I heard the first explosion, off to the northwest. A loud, low, massive boom, but not too close. On any other day, it would have been alarming.

Still on my hands and knees, I looked around for the cellphone. It was sitting in the dirt, 10 feet from where I fell. No service, it said. I wasn’t surprised. But it still showed the time: 10:05 a.m.

In just a few minutes, everything changed. Forever?

We thought it would be like other disasters--a big November windstorm, maybe, with more broken glass. The power might go out. We might be in the dark for a day or two until the guys in hardhats got around to restring a pole here and there. We would sweep up the shards on the kitchen floor, make plans to earthquake-proof the kitchen cabinets for next time, and everything would go back to normal.

Or maybe it would be as bad as a big hurricane on the Gulf Coast. Some homes would be destroyed. Power would be out for days. National Guardsmen would put up big green tents with kitchens, and we would stand in line for a plate of beans or something. Medics would bandage our wounds, give antibiotics to sick kids. The President would hand out bottles of drinking water. We would be on TV.

It hasn’t been like that so far. I don’t think it’s going to be like that any time soon. I hope I’m wrong.

What should you do if you’re outdoors when the big one hits?

Move away from buildings, trees, powerlines, or anything else that might fall on you. Then, duck and cover: Curl up in a ball and protect your head.

Federal info site: