Thursday, June 24, 2010

Rumble in the Capital

As a girl growing up on Air Force bases across Canada, I quickly developed a healthy respect for the awesome power of airplanes. Particularly since I was about six, when a friend of the family lost her husband in a flying accident, I have had an even healthier fear of airplanes crashing. (I mention this only as an indicator that I have had this fear since well before 9/11, when most sane people developed similar fears.)

As a base brat I became attuned to the various sounds of flying. I could tell the difference between takeoff and landing without looking, and during one particular summer could actually differentiate between the sounds of an F-14 and an F-18. I can't do either anymore, but I still peer suspiciously at the sky when I hear an aircraft which seems to be flying unusually low over a civilian area, while I look for smoke trails or a brighter light signalling a fire and not the wingtip lights. Just in case, y'know.

As I was playing a video game on the computer yesterday, on the upstairs level of our house, I was in the midst of a battle scene when this faint rumble began. For two seconds, my brain thought,"Cool, I'm really getting into the game." Then the rumble got much louder and the house started to shake. I swear on everything I hold dear I truly thought it was a plane coming down. I stood up and peeked out the curtains for about half a second, to assess where the noise was coming from and in which direction I should run to avoid having my head removed by an errant wingtip ripping through my roof. It was so loud!!

I didn't see anything in that split second, so I ran out of the office just in time to hear and see the mirror in the guest bathroom, which was never attached to the wall, fall forward and hit the faucet, sink, toilet and floor in quick sequence, shattering into a million pieces. Ash bolted downstairs and hid under the dining room table. I ran past him into the living room, where our touch lamp was flickering on and off, to see if I could spot contrails from the patio door. Nothing there. As I ran to the front door I spotted Juno diving under the living room chair. I still saw nothing, and by then the rumbling had stopped. It was only about 30 seconds. Not the longest 30 seconds of my life, but maybe in the top ten.

I hurriedly threw on some clothes (hey, it was my day off) and ran outside. A few neighbors were out there (including, I kid you not, a woman on her knees with her hands up in the air, praying). I called across the street to two women, "What WAS that?" A couple of shrugs. I ran back inside to grab the cat carriers in case I needed to get the cats out, wrinkling my nose in distaste at the state of them (what? they're not used that often, and basements are dusty). Went on a cat hunt and found Juno immediately, but I couldn't find Ash. He had fled from the dining room table, and it took ten minutes before he finally came up from the basement. Lots of good hiding places there. Figuring the worst of whatever it was was over, I ran upstairs and picked up the phone - no signal. I remembered that the computer was still on. Internet? Check. Immediately jumped on Facebook, where there was already a deluge of posts.

So, as all of Canada knows by now, it was actually an earthquake that hit the Quebec-Ottawa region (and not, as I had feared, a large airplane), measuring approximately 5.0 on the Richter scale. There are reports of minor damage in Ottawa, such as broken windows and fallen chimneys, with more serious damage in areas of Bowman, QC, the worst being a collapsed causeway and a damaged church roof. The quake was felt as far south as New York City, as far west as Thunder Bay.

So I made it through my first real earthquake and lived to tell the tale. The only casualty in my house was the mirror and the cats' nerves. Well, mine too. Took an hour for my fingers to stop shaking. But now I know what an earthquake feels like, so I'll hopefully be less panicked next time it happens.

(And just so we're clear, I'm not actually afraid to fly. I'm afraid to crash. On one memorable flight home to Halifax during my university years, I sat in the window seat right next to the propeller... during a snowstorm. I have a vivid imagination, and so the mental image of the propeller, a black silhouette against a backdrop of blowing snow and a bright winglight, rotating right off its casing, slicing through the cabin, and removing my legs below the knee, still stays with me.)