Too Close For Comfort*

LHearthquakesI had never sat on top of an earthquake. Until last Friday.

Last Friday evening was interrupted (to stop someone from doing what they were doing) by what sounded like the rumble (deep sound) of a large truck outside our house, followed quickly by what felt like a giant hand angrily shaking the house.

It happened again an hour later. Only this time the truck was much larger and the hand much stronger and angrier.

We had experienced the beginning of a series (one happening after another) of earthquakes, more than 200, which have continued through (including) today.

Fortunately, these were not major** or strong earthquakes. The first was a minor 3.6 on the Richter Scale (a measure of the strength of an earthquake). The second, the largest, was a moderate 5.1 earthquake. And Saturday afternoon there was a light 4.1.

Fortunately, Friday night’s earthquakes caused only minor damage. Store windows were broken. Large cracks (narrow spaces between two parts) appeared in the walls and foundations (the layer of cement or other material that a building stands on) of some houses and apartment buildings. Water mains (large pipes cities use to distribute water to different neighborhoods) were broken. Many items on the shelves of stores in the area were shaken onto the floor. And many, like us, had books, vases, and other items knocked off of shelves in our houses.

We’ve lived in California for 27 years and have experienced many earthquakes. California, as you may know, is sometimes called “earthquake country.” Shortly after we moved to California, we experienced the Whittier Narrows earthquake, a 5.9 earthquake in the city next to ours, which killed eight people and caused millions of dollars of damage.

Two things made these earthquakes different from our previous experiences. First, the largest of them, the main earthquake, was very nearly under our house. The epicenter (the point directly above an earthquake) was only about 1 to 2 kilometers away. Second, many of the more than 200 aftershocks (a smaller earthquake that occurs after an earlier large one) were very shallow (near the surface of the earth).

These two factors (something that causes a situation) – the nearness of the earthquakes and their shallowness – dramatically (greatly) changed our experience. Because we were so close, we experienced more of the earthquakes’ force, or energy. An earthquake’s force dissipates (becomes less) rather quickly as you move farther away, and you experience less of it. And when an earthquake is near the surface, its energy is concentrated (held together) in a smaller area. So for us, these earthquakes have seemed (appeared to be) much louder, stronger, and more violent than stronger earthquakes we have experienced from farther away.

As you may imagine, the earthquakes of the last few days have given us an unsettling experience (made us feel uneasy). You never know when the next one will hit (occur, happen). And when it does, you always wonder how strong it will be and how long it will last.

* Too close for comfort = to be dangerously close. For example, “That car almost hit me! That was too close for comfort.”
** Minor earthquakes are from 3-3.9; light are from 4-4.9; moderate are from 5-5.9; strong are from 6-6.9, and major from 7-7.9.

~ Warren Ediger – ESL coach/tutor and creator of the Successful English web site.

Photo: map of recent earthquakes near La Habra, CA courtesy of SCEC.

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12 Responses to Too Close For Comfort*

  1. Esmaeil says:

    I just say wow! What an experience! Few years ago we had a really bad earthquake in Baam- Iran. So many people died. I’m glad in your area you are all alright! Dr Jeff could you tell us why you wrote about Warren Ediger’s experience?

  2. Betty says:

    First of all, I would like to thank everyone’s Guardian Angels for protecting you all in LA.

    Secondly, I would like to thank you Warren for writing to let us know that you are well. Shaken, but not broken. Still able to teach us as much as possible!

    Thank you also for the vivid descriptions of what happened. I truly love the story, but not the thought of what happened to our dear teachers and friends and families in LA.

    I read some articles before about “gratitude”. It says we should think about the coming of death and illness regularly then we will appreciate what we have, instead of complaining we don’t have.

    Let’s hope that nothing bad will happen.

    Dear Guardian Angels, please continue to protect everyone on earth.

    Thank you.


  3. elcomandant says:

    I have sixty years old and I’ve never experienced a earthquake. However I can imagine how people must feel when they live one of them. Sometimes I have watched by TV the big earthquakes occurred in Japan and the experience must be terrible.

    When something like that happens one earthquake realizes how strong the nature force is and how tiny you are.

    I’m glad this earthquake haven’t produced any big damage and you have been able to survived at this nature phenomenon so you can tell us your bad expirience.


  4. elcomandant says:

    Apologise. I mean I’m sixty years old. 🙂

  5. emiliano says:

    Only once I have been close near to an earthquake in Torrevieja (Alicante) and I was absolutely terrified
    listening first the big sound you described so well and immediately the shakes that I thought they were
    not to be ever stoped.
    It was only 4,2 in the sea but everybody went to the street absolutely alarmed. Cuca that was beside
    me said to me “go out, go out, and save yourself” but of course I didn´t move from inside the house.
    I was not going to left her alone, If we are going to die we die together, that was my thought despite I
    was so afraid.
    So yes, I could understand your feelings Warren. In fact I have read about the earthquake near L.A.
    the following morning here and I was alarmed about all of you my dear teachers and friends.

    In 1829, the town of Torrevieja, Alicante, was totally destroyed by an earthquake, there were more
    than 300 died people and thousands of injured with nearly all the houses destroyed.

    On the years 2000 / 2004 Cuca and me have a house in the old town of Torrevieja and the earthquake
    plus the other that follows were in the evening taking us inside the condominium watching the Tv.
    Never I could forget the terrorific sound and the movements.

    My best dear Warren and try not to be as terrified as I was on that days.


  6. Satomi says:

    Hi Warren,

    Thank you for your writing. I was also surprised to hear it from a TV news.
    The earthquake occurs in L.A. as frequent as in Japan.

    It has passed three years since the East Japan great Earthquake happened in 11th March.
    We, almost Japanese remember the date and what we did at the time forever, and we are still not released unease because the earthquake happens many time in a year.
    It’s right for us that you just say “Too close for comfort”. I think almost people always have this thought, therefore they prepare emergency provisions, water, and other necessities for life.
    I prepare shoes under my bed because my feet will not be hurt, and a portable light, too.
    The old word to the wise: If you are prepared, you don’t have to worry

    Take care for all,


  7. Tania says:

    Hi! A frightful experience. I live in a seismic area, too. I know this deep sound coming from the bottom of the earth.
    It’s one of our night-mares every day or night. It can happen in any moment.
    We have a light earthquake every day for about two months. That means that the earth is moving continuously.
    A big one? A major one? When? Where? Nobody knows. Maybe the inner energy dissipates gradually.
    It could be our escape. If not, …

    All the best to you all,


  8. Dan says:

    Thank you Warren.

    When earthquake occurs I always try to remember myself that that is a consequence of our beautiful planet that it is kind of alive, and that is a signal.

    Of course, if you get killed or have one of your family member killed you do not think about that, right?

    Anyway, I want to look at it as a reminder that “our” planet is just, can I say majestic.


  9. Parviz says:

    Hi guys,
    I would like you to know that I read your post.
    Although I barely find time to write something.
    The other week I remember listening to Jeff talking about “experiencing an earthquake”.
    I was completely lost into Jeff’s voice discussing the feeling of earthquake, I had the feeling that everything was shaking but unconsciously I ignored it.
    After a short time, I finished the job and went out for a walk, in my surprise there were a lot of people in the street asking and talking about the light earthquake that had hit a few minutes ago.
    Then it dawned on me, Oh my good, I had felt the earthquake, but since it coincided with Jeff’s voice, I didn’t notice the real earthquake.

  10. Parviz says:

    Hey Dan,
    How have you been?
    I can see you are not the clever student any more.
    You used to be the first…… But, You are getting slow!
    Why? what happened to you?

    Where I live earthquake happens regularly.
    We are getting kind of used to them.
    First, I was afraid of dying of getting trapped under the ruins.
    But, after experiencing very many small and large earthquakes, when it happens I don’t do anything. I might take a few deep breaths saying ” I can not make it safe out of the building…. I might get crushed by people rushing to the door……Or getting stranded in the elevator, or etc”….
    So when the earthquake hits, I just continue doing whatever I was doing rather than panicking ….
    I don’t know why I have survived till no…….
    Thank you

  11. WangLuu says:

    Hi Warren!

    I only have experienced the earthquake once. And back in that time, I was only in twelve grade where I was only 18. We were sitting in the class and doing the maths

    Suddenly, we encountered a rumble sound and every table was shaky. At first, I thought one of my classmates tried to fool in class. But at the time we received the aftershocks we knew it was an earthquake.

    We were on the 5th floor of the building so our teachers asked us to leave the class for evacuation down into the schoolyard. Everybody was chaotic and in panic, that was the first time we have had an earthquake

    in our darling 300 year old city, so we ran as fast as we could have had down the staircase. However, in order to get in/or out of school we have to pass through a small entrance which is only one and a half feet

    unfortunately, sort of like an alley rather than an entrance, I would say. And with a large amount of students disgorging at the same time, as you may picture out, so we got caught in a big congestion right there.

    Some even fainted out because of the compression in the alley. Eventually, we all got down into the yard. It took us an hour later to settle down. Fortunately, there wasn’t any damage to the school afterward.

    Good lesson for emergency case right? Because our class was on the top of the building so the effect of the quake, its intensity, its shake was quite severe for us even though it was identified as a moderate

    earthquake later on.

    Best regard, Warren!

    P/s: In our culture, you will be on the list of little punks as behaving improperly. And such actions that shows or indicates your disrespect to the teacher like leaving the class without the teacher’s permission

    (taking a dump for example) or saying things without raising your hand first… will receive, at least, rebukes or detentions or other severe punishments.

  12. Dan says:

    Hey Parviz,

    Come on, I am not the clever student,…..I am THE BEST student.:-)

    That depends on the shift I am working at. Over here, I see the post at 6 Pm.
    If I am working the afternoon shift I write the day after.

    Bye Parviz!

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