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Long Beach earthquake: Columnist recalls her experience after 78 years

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news Bemidji, 56619
Bemidji Minnesota P.O. Box 455 56619

Midwesterners don't give much thought to earthquakes. Many have not only never experienced one but also not even known anyone who has. They are not talked of much, only read about in the news. Few have received the attention on TV that has accompanied the major tragedy in Japan. At a measurement of 9.0 it was almost unbelievably violent and destructive.

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I have found the reports of it especially gripping since I lived through a quake at the age of 9. My mother and I were spending the winter in California to get her into new surroundings after the tragic death of my father at age 46. We actually lived in Hollywood, which is much more than just movie studios and stars. We had returned from the grocery store at about 6 p.m. and were unloading our purchases from the car when the pavement began to roll in waves under our feet and the two four-story buildings on either side of the street appeared to be nodding at us.

Mother said, "Alice, look at this. You may never see anything like it again."

When my brother, who was back in the Midwest going to college, heard about this statement, he laughed and suggested that I might never have seen anything again.

Since we were inexperienced with quakes, we took our packages and rode the elevator up to our fourth-floor apartment where we soon were jolted by a sizeable aftershock. We ran down the stairway, but on the second floor a man standing in his apartment door said firmly, "Stop!"

He had lived through many quakes in Japan and other countries and quickly taught us that to run out into the street was the worst thing to do.

"Look at any building damaged by an earthquake and you will see that if anything is left standing it is the doorways," he said.

Well, you can imagine that for the next two months until we headed home, this 9-year-old was never far from a doorway.

Although an earthquake was not an unusual occurrence in that area, the strength of 6.9 was considered one of the worst in years. We had more than 100 aftershocks before morning and chose to spend the disturbed night with friends nearby who lived on the first floor of a two-story building.

The center of this quake had been quite far south of us near the town of Long Beach. We drove around over the next weeks observing the damage and repairs that were still going on when we headed home to Illinois in April.

I have never lived through another earthquake since then and hope never to have to, but that experience has made me aware of and sensitive to the tragedy they represent for those who must survive them. The TV coverage of the total destruction of entire towns and the tortured expressions of survivors facing the loss of loved ones, of their homes and all their possessions, are gripping. The frightening added problems now becoming clear in the damage to nuclear reactors only adds to the danger and fear.

At our distance, safe and secure, we can only offer some financial contributions to helping organizations and loving thoughts and prayers, but at least we can make those our gifts.

Alice Collins writes a column for the Pioneer's Prime Time the second Tuesday of each month.

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