With the news of the recent earthquake near San Francisco, I thank God that there was no loss of life.
Having survived the big Northridge earthquake in California twenty years ago, I still tremble every time I hear of another one. Yet I learned valuable lessons that day. Coming from the Midwest, we were always fearful of tornadoes, but not many had ever been in an earthquake. We are on the famous New Madrid fault line where the seismologists have predicted a huge one for years; but none of us ever really thought much about it.
As a 20-year teacher in a large public school in St. Louis, I had led students through numerous safety drills for just about every disaster known to mankind. But I never anticipated what occurred on January 17, 1994, in the middle of the night.
My co-worker Charlotte had nominated me to become a trainer/speaker for a very famous Educational Consulting company, Lee Canter and Associates. I had flown to their headquarters in California three previous times, and finally I was attending a training and ice-breaking session with the ten others selected. It happened to be the same weekend when we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Day, so I was looking forward to a long weekend in sunny California. It happened to be in the middle of a St. Louis blizzard of sorts, and I was teasing my colleagues that I would think of them shoveling snow as I soaked up the California sunshine.
Upon arrival we were treated to an exquisite dinner where I met my extraordinary new colleagues; we were then escorted to our lavish hotel to be rested for the next day’s training.
Being a sound sleeper, it takes a lot to rouse me at 4:30 AM; but those 20 seconds of a 6.7 magnitude caused me to leap out of bed. The in-room refrigerator was flying across the room, and there was no electricity to turn on the lights. I crawled through the broken glass of the window in time to see the pool water 12 stories beneath being literally swished in and out, from side to side, completely up and out of the pool. Deafening alarms sounded as the skyline of LA began to blacken. Announcements to “Get Out” were carried by bullhorns, and emergency lighting let us see the elevators were out of commission, and we had to scramble down 12 flights in our nightclothes, or for some – nothing at all!
Lee Canter and friends came to pick us up in the parking lot, as we found out this was the epicenter and the hotel was temporarily condemned. There was no going back for clothes, personal items and my precious contact lenses. All of us stayed three more days in the upper scale beautiful home of Lee and Marlene Canter. They fed us, loaned us clothes and personal items, but unfortunately not their phone. Cell phones hadn’t come into existence yet and the land lines were severed.
The airport was closed for three days and we were absolutely helpless.
So we walked from street to street helping folks clean up and try to cope. Children wandered around looking for their toys, while aftershocks sent all of us running. The most vivid of all my memories in this million dollar neighborhood, was throwing debris in curb trash receptacles on top of pieces of fine china, broken crystal collections, shattered antiques and tattered artwork from around the world. Nothing meant a thing in the midst of folks looking for loved ones and trying to get messages home.
We later learned that more than 5000 people were injured and the death toll was near 60. Property damage was estimated to be more than $20 billion, making it one of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history – yet each of us would give all we owned to have our loved ones safe.
My consultant friends and I had a new bond, and I continued to be a Canter consultant for ten years. We were soon given required emergency kits to carry as we traveled.
Needless to say, the value of “things” went down many notches that day! As my family and fellow teachers had a thousand questions when I returned, I always included that I came home more grateful, more compassionate, and wanting to spend more time with family and friends. And they would never again hear gloating from me!
Read more posts by Debra Peppers, Ph.D., here. Dr. Peppers blogs for JenningsWire.
The online feature magazine, JenningsWire.com, is created by National PR Firm, Annie Jennings PR that specializes in providing book promotion services to self-published and traditionally published authors. Annie Jennings PR books authors, speakers and experts on major high impact radio talk interview shows, on local, regionally syndicated and national TV shows and on influential online media outlets and in prestigious print magazines and newspapers across the country.