Earthquakes can occur anywhere. However, the majority happen in areas that have numerous fault lines. Southern California is known for the faults that are located there and the large number of major earthquakes they’ve endured. Southern Oregon is much less known for earthquake activity, but they do happen. There are fault lines running throughout the western US.
On September 20, 1993, my wife, two children, and I were relaxing as much as possible in the sweltering heat, in Klamath Falls, Oregon. It was a Monday evening and my wife had finished studying for her college courses. We’d all finished dinner.
Right around 8:15, there was a loud sound that was similar to a dump truck loaded with rocks, moving down a rough road. A moment later, the house began to shake. The shaking was back and forth, side to side, and up and down. The sensation was a very curious one as if the house was on a giant rollercoaster.
In unison, my wife, 11-year-old daughter, and 13-year-old son yelled, “What’s happening?”
As calmly as possible, though I honestly wasn’t feeling calm, I simply said, “Earthquake.”
I like to think that the calmness of my voice prevented my family from panicking. The quake lasted about 30 seconds and it turns out that it registered 7.3 on the Richter Scale. The epicenter of the quake was a little more than five miles north of town, under Klamath Lake, which is a shallow lake that is 42 miles long and 16 miles wide. The depth of the quake was somewhat less than six miles and shallow quakes like this are the sort that usually cause the most damage.
Thankfully, most of the town of Klamath Falls is built over a thick volcanic bedrock, so the damage wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. (One of the most damaging earthquakes in Southern California also had a Richter magnitude of 7.3.)
Curiously, not more than 15 minutes after the quake, a woman who was a classmate of my wife, pulled up in front of our house and literally ran to the house. She was shaking and her eyes were wide. When the quake hit, her only thought was to make it to our house because she felt safe there. The curious part is that she was from Los Angeles and was no stranger to earthquakes. To this day, I’ve never figured out why she’d feel especially safer at our house than anywhere else, though I took it as a compliment and still think of it that way.
We were successful in calming the friend down, though it took a while. She left at about 10:00 pm.
A second earthquake struck about 45 minutes later. It registered 7.1 on the Richter Scale and was nearly a duplicate of the first quake, though it didn’t last as long.
For those who don’t know it, the Richter Scale is logarithmic. This means that a quake of 7.2 is twice as strong as a quake of 7.1. These quakes were strong, but because of where the town is built, the damage was surprisingly light.
Our ceiling had a crack in it and several store-fronts downtown were destroyed. A number of vehicles were damaged by falling bricks and other material. Some chimneys were destroyed partly or completely. The courthouse and library, both located downtown, were severely damaged. A number of windows in town were broken, as were things inside the houses like dishes. However, the sort of destruction that is normally associated with quakes this strong was lacking.
In fact, only two people were killed in the quake. One of them, an elderly lady, died of a heart attack. The other, a young man, was driving around the lake when the earthquake occurred and a large boulder rolled down the hill and crushed the Toyota he was in.
Somewhat absurdly, news crews who flew in from all over the country were seriously disappointed because of the lack of major damage and very low loss of life.
It was an event that I would really prefer not reliving. However, it did have its points of interest. For the next six months, there were also hundreds of aftershocks, but none of them amounted to much.