Wednesday, May 22, 2013

An Unexpected Earthquake

I suppose most people fear being involved in an earthquake but I always wanted to know what it would feel like and actively prayed that one day I might actually experience the earth literally moving beneath my feet. I had a fascination with all things seismic and volcanic and was always excited by the prospect of visiting regions where a major event may unfold. As it turned out I didn’t have to travel very far to get what I wanted.

United States

I love California and have made many visits to this state which has a wealth of natural riches. Every time I set foot in San Francisco I wondered if the earth would move and was most excited to have the opportunity to visit areas close to the San Andreas Fault on several occasions. Riding the roller coasters as Six Flags Magic Mountain I marvelled that a major earthquake had recently afflicted Loma Prieta just along the road but I never experienced so much as a twitch. California has delivered many major seismic events but never
when I was there.

Whilst visiting Alaska I was privileged to see many volcanoes and to visit the Valley of The 10,000 smokes in Katmai National Park where I stood at the terminus of an enormous pyroclastic flow that had swept across the region. The volcanoes remained stubbornly dormant during my visit although their awesome beauty and enormous scale was a sight to behold.


A visit to the Roman city of Pompeii tells you everything you need to know about the devastation that a volcanic eruption can bring. Mount Vesuvius dominates the entire landscape and after my first visit I resolved that one day I would return to climb the volcano to view the crater. Many years later I did exactly this and the mountain had certainly started to stir once more as sulphur dioxide was venting from all over the crater. Standing at the summit I felt that this might be one occasion on which I should pray that there would not be an eruption!

Aftermath of September 4, 2010 earthquake in Christchurch, NZ.
By  Martin Luff via Wikimedia Commons

Closer to Home

There were no earthquakes or volcanic eruptions during my travels. The greatest irony of my life was that there didn’t need to be. One morning in July 1984 I awoke to find my bed jumping across the floor and my books flying off their shelves. For one fleeting moment I thought that I had a poltergeist, then thought I must be dreaming but eventually realised that the whole house was shaking and what I was really experiencing was an earthquake. If I had been in California I would not have been so surprised but I was at home in Liverpool which seemed rather crazy. After the shaking stopped I jumped out of bed, pulled on my jeans and rushed outside to see if there was any serious damage to the house. Thankfully all was well but the streets were full of people gazing around quizzically wondering what on earth was going on.

The Earthquake

The quake had measured 5.4 on the Richter scale, an uncommonly large event for the United Kingdom. I was extremely euphoric and my memorable day was crowned by a phone call from my Mother asking if I knew there had been an earthquake in Liverpool! Did she really think I hadn’t noticed?
Sally Stacey is a frequent traveller with a passion for earthquakes and volcanos. Check her out on Google+ now!
This computer generated model maps earthquake locations and their magnitudse for the past 110 years. Photo by CAVE Idaho National Laboratory