Quake shook loose some memories


July 10, 2019

The July 4 temblor that rattled Southern California and even Las Vegas, Nevada, shook up some memories for me.

The last time Southern California had a quake that measured as high as 6.4 on the Richter scale was about 20 years ago, and I was living there for that one.

It registered 7.1, a big one, and occurred at 2:45 a.m. on Oct. 16, 1999. Its epicenter, for which quakes are named, was at Hector Mine, an abandoned quarry in the middle of California’s desolate high desert.

It rumbled all over all over Southern California and even in Nevada, but even though I’m sure the family woke up for this one, it was relatively inconsequential.

An Amtrak train derailed with minor damage and no injuries.

The 7.3 Landers quake of 1992 got me out of bed to make sure my young kids were OK. I found them dutifully sitting in doorways as they had been taught. That’s where Dad should have been.

The desert town of Landers, the epicenter, experienced some sudden and significant changes to its geography, like land masses moving 50 feet. Three persons died and damage was heavy all over Southern California. It was felt all the way to Idaho.

For one quake in 1987, I was almost directly over the epicenter when it struck. I was driving to work and suddenly felt the back end of my car jump a foot or two.

I looked up to see the power lines swinging back and forth as they would in a 1930s cartoon with a rhythmic soundtrack.

A later one rocked the building I worked in. When it stopped I asked if everyone was OK. A voice nearby said, “I think I’m trapped in my modular furniture.” That person emerged OK, but the idea of feeling trapped in office furniture became a theme of my corporate life.

Over the years, earthquakes became a game in which you guessed the magnitude and the epicenter of an earthquake.

You based your guess on how long it lasted, how much shaking went on, and the direction from which the first rumble came a fraction of a second before the earth moved. I got pretty good at it.

We lived within 15 miles of the infamous San Andreas Fault, but I don’t think any of the state’s big earthquakes directly involved the San Andreas while we lived there.

Even the Loma Prieta quake of 1989 that hit San Francisco — during rush hour and in the middle of a World Series game, killing 67 people — originated on a branch fault, not the San Andreas itself.

I’ve traded earthquakes for tornadoes on New Mexico’s eastern plains.

Tucumcari has not experienced any tornadoes in the 11 years I have lived here, but a couple have come close.

Unlike earthquakes, tornadoes telegraph their approach with foul weather and rotating super-cells.

It’s nice to know you can be warned with enough time to get out of the way.

Steve Hansen writes about our life and times from his perspective of a semi-retired Tucumcari journalist. Contact him at:

[email protected]


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