Waiting for the chimney to come crashing down
After a pretty good-sized quake eight or 10 years ago, I redoubled my resolve: I'm going to call and add earthquake insurance to our policy. I'll do it tomorrow. Well, maybe tomorrow. OK, tomorrow for sure.
When the current series of small quakes started in, what was it, February?, my wife and I began nagging each other: We really have to get quake insurance. We understand that this is a seismically active area. We have three friends in Reno who happen to be geologists, and they all have quake insurance. That ought to tell you something even if you're resistant to being told stuff.
A few days ago there was a quake rated at 3.6 on the Richter scale, centered about three miles from our house. No quake insurance. A day or two later there was another, a 4.1. Still no insurance. Then a 4.2, which finally inspired me to make the call.
"Are you kidding?" my insurance guy said, in effect. "I couldn't write you a quake policy now if you were the Queen of Outer Space."
OK, I thought. Maybe it's over. We've come through the worst of it. Our house survived the biggest known earthquake in Verdi history, a 6.0 in 1948, so let's not worry.
That night we had a 4.7 quake.
I'd just gotten into bed, and when the temblor started, I had a vision of our old brick chimney, right outside the bedroom in line with my head, crashing through the ceiling. It didn't, but when I went out and looked at it this morning, I couldn't swear that it's as vertical as it used to be. The movement of the earth in the largest quake was too general for me to feel a direction, but my impression is that it was generally northwest-southeast. I'm not too concerned about being injured by the collapse of the house--small frame buildings generally don't pancake, and we probably could crawl out of the rubble. If the chimney should fall to the northwest, though, it would wind up in bed with us.
We've been following the pattern of quakes as it's developed, and it's unusual in that there hasn't been a single strong one followed by a series of generally decreasing aftershocks. They keep getting bigger, which seismologists say indicates a "slight increase" in the chance of a severe earthquake still to come. Nothing to do but wait it out, wishing I'd bought the insurance any of the 5,000 times I've thought of it since 1979.
Meanwhile, both our cat and dog have forsaken their normal sleeping places in favor of our bedroom, where, just about the time I doze off, one or the other of them will ease up onto the bed, bringing me stark, staring awake with what I now realize is a remarkably accurate impression of about a 3.5 quake.
I grew up in the Bay Area, and I've been through dozens of earthquakes. I'm not a sissy about them. But this can stop anytime it wants to.