Earthquake

The ornamental cherry trees are a rich pink. Underneath, there are swaths of white snow drops. The sky is blue and the sun not yet summer-warm is still welcome. People are starting to clean up the debris in their gardens.

Today, off the coast of Vancouver Island there was another earthquake. Far enough out that no one got shook up. But there have been a number of earthquakes lately. People live here for the mild winters, trading snow for rain, clear blue skies for clouds. We have green winters. Green on green, every shade imaginable. That’s because of the winter rains.

People come from the prairies to escape the blizzards, the thirty or forty below temperature that keep them trapped inside. They fill up the motels and hotels that rent by the week or month. Some motels have nothing but prairie people, people who come back every year from Winnipeg, Red Deer, Saskatoon. They hold pool tournaments for them, arrange social events.

Even in the rain, walking is possible. An older crowd knows that it needs to walk, get out and exercise. If you are determined, you can even play tennis in the rain. Slow, soggy ball but that’s okay. Most visitors are of the age where a slow ball is just fine.

They check the weather every morning, comment on it as soon as they go downstairs to the lounge. “Thirty-eight below in Medicine Hat today”, they say as they trade weather statistics.

Why not go further south, cross the border to the USA, get some real warm weather. Health insurance is expensive. Crime. They read about robberies and muggings and guns, guns and more guns. They want to be somewhere that if they have a heart attack and don’t die, that they won’t be bankrupted. They don’t want to go to a big city like San Diego or Los Angeles. They’re not looking for excitement. The quiet, boring life of Victoria with its veneer of tourist Britishness suits them.

They like high tea at the Empress. A light lunch at Murchie’s. A lamb burger at the Irish pub. There are pseudo-UK shops on Wharf Street, shops where you can buy Scots tartans and Irish Beleek.

The druggies are nearly invisible. They’ve also come for the weather. Trying to sleep outside in Winnipeg in January is suicidal. Here they can sleep under a bridge or, more likely, in a shelter. There’s always food and, if they hang around long enough, a welfare cheque. Mostly, though, the tourists never encounter them.

Like most tourists, the Canadians from East of the Rockies leave worrying about the day to day problems to the locals. They’re just here for a day, week, a couple of months, then they’re gone again. If it even crosses their mind, they just hope that there’s no serious earthquake while they’re here. They read an earthquake headline, look out the window and no one is in a panic. People are walking their dogs.

For those of us that live here, it’s a bit different. We know we’ll be here when an earthquake hits. Little ones don’t matter. They happen all the time. I wake up during the night and my furniture is shaking. I roll over and go to sleep. It’s the big one that lies in the back of our minds. Not 7s or 8s but 9s, the kind of earthquake that made a mess of Japan’s coastline, that drove a tsunami inland, a great rising tide that nothing could stand against.

Fifty feet. That’s a number that sticks in our minds when we buy a house. All three of my houses have been away from the ocean, up higher than fifty feet. That’s likely the high water mark for a major tsunami. It’s the rich people along the water who will have their mansions swept away.

The other thing we pay attention to is the map showing areas of Victoria where the ground would liquefy. A lot of buildings are built on soil that would turn to mush. Buildings will sink, tilt, disintegrate. It’s all been worked out. My place is built on solid granite. However, the one end of the house rests on concrete pillars. I doubt if it would stay in place if there was significant shaking over minutes instead of a few seconds. My son’s house, even though it is on a steep slope, doesn’t rest on pillars. Instead, it is pinned to pillars like a massive cradle. It should swing with the movement of the earth.

We depend on ferries to provide all our supplies, to get us to the mainland. A severe shaking could put the ferry terminals out of commission. Experience during storms have shown that the stores start to run out of food in four days. Food in your fridge and freezer will go bad in a couple of days unless you have a generator. And fuel. Electricity will be out. No lights, no electric heat, no elevators, no lots of things. In my earthquake training, we were told we could not expect any help for at least seven days, maybe three weeks. The closest staging area is Edmonton.

Water is the biggest problem. We get our water from lakes. The water main into town will break. Not might break. It will break. How many people have three weeks water in their basement or their garage? Not me. You need water to drink. Forget washing. You need water to cook with. I usually have a twenty-four of soft drinks around. I can cook rice with diet Coke if I have to. If you turn on your kitchen taps and there’s no water, what do you do? Calling the plumber won’t help.

Yup, Victoria is pretty nice. The tourists strolling down Fort looking in the antique shops love it. I love it. But there, in the back of my mind, sort of like a ghost drifting in and out of the picture as I eat hormone free burgers at Bubba’s, poke around the brick buildings of Chinatown, is that plate beneath our feet, ready, one of these days, to lurch forward and I and thousands of others will think, as our legs turn to rubber, I shoulda bought water.