Day: April 11, 2012

The Day the House Shook: Another Aceh Earthquake 11 April 2012

Today was one of those days when the house shook.

Yes, literally, our house shook today, at about 4:38PM, here in Penang, in our house, the walls shook, and the floor moved. That was the time an 8.6 magnitude earthquake was happening on the west coast of northern Sumatra. That is only 594 miles from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and not so much further from where we are in Penang.

I had just wanted to rest a bit. My Ankylosing Spondylitis kind of wears me out during the day, so a short rest helps recharge my battery, so to speak, sometimes, and during the afternoon is the best time to take a siesta.

I think I had fallen asleep, and all of a sudden, the bed was shaking.

At first, I thought someone was moving the bed, trying to mess with me. Coming fully alert, I didn’t see anyone and was wondering when we had installed the quarter-driven vibrating bed mechanism, but we didn’t.

Almost instantly, visions of 2004 were coming back to me. With this type of wave-motion movement, I knew there was a BIG earthquake somewhere, most likely in Indonesia.

The vibrating wave went on for over a minute. I slowly-raced out of the bedroom (slowly-raced – yeap – good one Mr. Oxymoron!) and asked the others, “Do you feel that?” I knew they did, but I wanted to rule out hallucinations as a cause. And yes, they did feel the shaking and they appeared shocked as well.

I went to the front door, and I felt the doorway frame moving in the opposite direction as the house foundation. That was a weird feeling: Nothing like the upper half of your body moving in a different direction as your feet.

I went outside and everything seemed normal. The shaking had finished. But this was a big-one. The photographer in me was saying: “I wonder how you photograph a small trembler that doesn’t do much damage (or any damage)?” I wouldn’t have had time to get my camera, and there wouldn’t have been much to show for photographs. Usually, I guess, only if you are near the epicenter and things are falling down and in around you, would you be able to capture the frightening essence of an earthquake. I am glad we are not that close.

The next concern, of course, after experiencing the 2004 Tsunami that hit Penang’s shores, was, another Tsunami.

In 2004, I had just had my spinal fusion surgery, could hardly move, and when we learned about the Tsunami, I just told my wife, “You guys run for the hills, tie me to a tree or something and I’ll hope for the best.” I was still walking with a cane, a few steps at a time, at that period.

In 2004, the water of the waves reached near our house, by about a half a block. Less than a half-kilometer from our house, there were fishing boats sitting in front yards of the village, and boats were clogging roads, along with lots of other debris – big debris.

Aren’t “bug-out bags” supposed to be ready before potential disasters strike?

That is a rhetorical question: Of course they are! Were our bug-out bags ready? Of course they weren’t!

So, for the next couple hours, we filled our bug-out bags with the most valuable documents, hard-drives, bottled water (that adds heft to the bag), and a few other things, like flashlight, batteries, and my camera.

We stayed tune to the USGS.gov website and the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center website, waiting for any news that big Tsunami waves were forming. There was a Tsunami warning for some areas, and Penang was in the Watch category.

A second big earthquake hit the same area today at 6:43PM, of magnitude 8.2. We felt that one too. Our situational awareness was high to say the least. And, we had our bug-out bags ready by the time the second big quake hit.

The Plan (or Sort of a Plan)

There’s a hill near the house that has a semi-vertical rise for several blocks, and I figure that if we had enough time, say 10 to 20 minutes head-start, we could run, walk, crawl up that hill to about 100 to 150 feet above sea level – maybe more. However, time is the key word.

At the moment, our house sits near sea-level, and that is a really bad place to be during a Tsunami. We are also situated only about 5 or 6 city blocks away from the ocean. Also, that’s not a good distance to the sea, to be during a Tsunami.

There were almost too many things to think about this afternoon: It is good to have a well thought out plan ahead of time, isn’t it.

I guess everyone who saw the 2004 disaster gets high-on-alert when these earthquakes hit in the Banda Aceh region.

For now, code-red alert has been reduced to code-light-colored yellow. However, I think I will stay up a bit later tonight and keep tabs on the USGS website. There is no doubt in my mind, nevertheless, that in the middle of the night, if there were more strong earthquakes, that I would be awakened by the vibrating bed – It was like having a water-bed with surfer waves inside it.

I have not seen any visuals of damage in any region, especially Indonesia, but I pray that people were more aware and that they are safe. These were big quakes, and it serves as a reminder that the Earth is a very fluid place, it has a mind of its own, and when Earth’s plates move, we humans move with it. Be Safe!