Quakin’ but Unshaken

Posted August 24th, 2011 at 3:46 pm (UTC-4)
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Before I begin a brief riff about the 5.8-level earthquake that rattled Washington and much of the American East Coast yesterday, let me assure those of you who have experienced severe quakes, up to and including the loss of life and homes around you, that I realize earthquakes are no laughing matter in much of the world.  Or even in much of America.

But a lot of us who live east of, say, Missouri and southern Illinois, where our nation’s most powerful earthquakes — two of them — devastated mainly uninhabited territory in 1811 and 1812, hadn’t felt, in singer Carole King’s words, “the earth move under our feet” at any point in our lives.

Blessedly, our building shimmered only briefly.  I was nonchalant, even gallant, about it, until I remembered how many tons of concrete were wiggling above me in our 1940 building constructed with extra layers of the stuff in order to hold the heavy files of the new Social Security Administration.  Thanks to a world war, SSA never got here, but the concrete ended up overhead anyway.

Since I couldn’t get any work done with the security system’s monitors screeching and a distended voice announcing “An emergency has been declared in your building,” I strolled down the stairs to leave.  Only then did I notice the cracks in the wall and some fallen plaster.

But all was calm as we milled around with thousands of other evacuated federal workers, directly beneath buildings whose massive antenna arrays could easily sail down upon us if a serious aftershock were to follow.  Maybe under my desk, listening to the distended voice prattle on over and over, would have been better after all.

But all turned out well here and at home — if you don’t ask me about my beer-bottle collection.  I took one peek at my den and shut the door, figuring I’d man the broom and dustpan this weekend.  I still have, oh, 1,900 (make that 1,800) bottles on the shelves.

So many people overreacted to the Great Quake of 2011 that the Internet came alive with mocking “updates” and “survival” stories, such as:

“In retrospect, I resorted to cannibalism rather fast after the earthquake.”

. . . and this little dig at President Obama’s negotiation skills:

“There was just a 5.8 earthquake in Washington. Obama wanted it to be 3.4, but the Republicans wanted 5.8, so he compromised.”

But best of all were photographs of the “devastation” that raced around the Web.  Check ’em out while I finish the blog I was GOING to issue yesterday.

And my favorite, clearly showing how widespread was the destruction:



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Ted Landphair


This is a far-ranging exploration of American life by a veteran Voice of America “Americana” reporter and essayist.

Ted writes about the thousands of places he has visited and written about as a broadcaster and book author. Ted Landphair’s America often showcases the work of his wife and traveling companion, renowned American photographer Carol M. Highsmith.

Ted welcomes feedback, questions, and ideas. View Ted’s profile. Watch a video about Ted and Carol by VOA’s Nico Colombant.

Photos by Carol M. Highsmith


August 2011
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