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On shaky ground

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Shaken up. Rattled. Unnerved. While lives weren’t lost in the two large quakes and more than 4,000 aftershocks that recently hit Ridgecrest, California, what was lost was an emotional sense of security.

The ground is supposed to be firm. Terra firma. Standing on solid ground. And when that won’t stop heaving and swaying and jolting, it takes an intense toll that can’t be quantified. I lived in Ridgecrest 19 years before moving to Montana, and had experienced many temblors growing up in southern California. But the severity of a 7.1 — and a shallow one at that — is difficult to imagine.

“I’m scared out of my mind,” said longtime Ridgecrest resident Debra Holland, who owns the only mortuary in town. “I want to leave and never come back.”

But she couldn't. Not only did she have family to care for, she also had four bodies awaiting cremation, which couldn't happen without electricity.

“I’m thankful my family and structures are ok, but I am frightened beyond belief,” she admitted.

Many of our family and close friends still live in Ridgecrest. Our daughter Bree and her two young boys were at McDonald’s with another family before the 7.1 earthquake struck. She asked the parents to watch her boys so she could run to the bathroom.

“Then it hit. I tried to wipe, I tried to stand up, but I couldn’t. I felt like I was in a tumble dryer,” she said. “That was scary.”

While news keeps reporting that “the big one” is a constant threat, houses have become enemies rather safe sanctuaries. Folks are trying to sleep in their cars, or in tents at the park, fearful to enter a structure that could collapse. Many are unable to sleep, staying awake, fully dressed — just in case.

“I haven’t had any sleep since the 7.1 hit, ‘till about 1 this morning,” a local videographer said two days after the big one. He was awakened while sleeping in his truck by footsteps running through his yard. He turned on his scanner to discover the police were searching for a burglar who stole a Playstation and Xbox from a neighbor’s home before dumping them in the nearby bushes; opportunistic thieves in his neighborhood.

It’s disturbing to watch video of items falling from shelves in stores I know well, or to watch people panic at a children’s play in the high school my kids attended, or to see a photo of ceiling tiles and ducting hanging from my former office in the photography department of the Daily Independent.

But of course, no lives were lost. Thankfully no one was seriously injured.

It’s a realistic reminder to rehearse how to react should we experience another large quake in Montana. Seismic activity is common in the state, although damaging quakes are rare. The 1959 Hegben Lake earthquake registered 7.3 on the Richter scale, killing 29 people and reshaping geography by damming the Madison River.

Being physically prepared with at least three days of adequate water and supplies, remembering to “Drop, Cover and Hold On,” and participating in drills such as The Great Montana ShakeOut can help people cope in the worst of scenarios.

While most folks’ instincts are to flee from disaster, I admit the journalist in me is disappointed I wasn't there for the earthquakes. I'm fighting the urge to rush to Ridgecrest. Not to cover the news, but to embrace my friends and family who are struggling to get back to their normal existence while enduring a marathon of aftershocks of which they have zero control.

Local earthquake preparedness resources can be found at www.shakeout.org/montana/ resources/ and on the montana.gov website on the school health, natural disasters page.

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