You Never Know When the Earth Will Shake

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

After I saw the news coverage of the recent tornadoes in Virginia, the state where I live, I wanted to make sure my home owners insurance was up-to-date. During the Q&A process with the insurance rep, she asked me if I wanted earthquake insurance.

Earthquake insurance? In Virginia?

She reminded me about the recent earthquake in Illinois and Ohio that was supposedly felt as far away as Iowa. "Never can be sure," she said.

Then I remembered my own earthquake experience. It was in Montreal a few years ago. My family and I were staying at a hotel in the downtown area. Suddenly the building shook for a few seconds and there was a loud noise. I thought it was just a truck or some other large vehicle rumbling by. But my wife immediately said, "That was an earthquake." And sure enough, she was right according to that night's news.

Pretty mild, eh? But my friend and fellow journalist George DeLama of the Chicago Tribune was in the Los Angeles area during the 1994 Northridge, California quake. It destroyed his house. He told me later than if he could help it, he would never again live in any place that was earthquake friendly.

In the end, I turned down the earthquake insurance. I really don't think I need it. My fingers are crossed of course.

We want to hear from our listeners in Reno, where small earthquakes have become commonplace. What are they like? How bad are they?

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Question for the guests: The locations of all the quakes are in a very small, contained area. Is this pattern typical of a new volcanic vent coming up?

Sent by Clem Urban | 3:51 PM | 5-1-2008

Has anyone considered the amount of agriculture, industrial, and residential water use in the Reno area might be affecting the local aquifer(a water-bearing stratum of permeable rock, sand, or gravel}?

Perhaps local water usage may be related to the recent local earthquake phenomena.

Sent by Alan | 4:53 PM | 5-1-2008

I moved to Reno almost three years ago from Seattle, where I had experienced the 6.8 quake of 2001, as well as many other events, including the earthquakes leading up to Mt.St.Helens in 1980, and the big 1965 quake as a child. This "swarm", as it is being called, is a little unnerving. It doesn't seem to follow the usual patterns I have experienced before. You know, first a big quake, then aftershocks. Or in the case of the volcano, a lot of little earthquakes leading up to the eruption. This "swarm" leaves you constantly wondering when the next quake is going to happen, and whether it is going to be the 6.0 quake they are warning us about.

Sent by Trish | 4:59 PM | 5-1-2008

I'm an internet NPR listener living in the southern part of Niigata, Japan. In October of 2003, this area experienced three major quakes followed by aftershocks that continued over several years. There were 64 deaths and many injuries. It was recognized that the majority of the deaths and injuries resulted from falling objects in the house. I would like to highlight this important point to all those living in earthquake zones in the US. Bring down all glass and heavy objects from high shelves. Bolt down free-standing bookshelves and cabinets. Be concerned about cabinet doors that can easily open allowing books and dishes to fly out. Have an emergency backpack ready for each member of the family near an exit. Talk to your family about safety and preparedness.I empathize with you all and know how unnerving it is to experience the suddenness and the awesome power of earthquakes large and small. Focus that nervous energy into safety measures you can easily carry out around the home. You will feel a bit better and you will be a lot safer.

Sent by Jan | 9:36 PM | 5-1-2008

I live a 1/2 mile from the epicenter and am in the "zone" of the temblors. Although I have a degree in Geology and understand the language the seismologists are speaking, nothing can prepare you for the human aspect of experiencing this swarm. Last Thursday and Friday, I was working at the computer and felt like I was working in a carnival fun house with the moving walls and floors. It happened on average every eight minutes. Along with all the movement was what I would call a deep booming sound that went along with each quake and sometimes preceded the quake. Hard to work in that environment. Nights, though have been the worst, I think lying in bed magnifies the booming sound. Not much sleep has been had by anyone in our area. On a happier note, since our rude awakening (followed by cleaning up broken glass)the quakes are still coming but they are smaller and I am not detecting the booming sound.

Sent by Heidi Hubbard | 11:22 PM | 5-1-2008

The last month has been quieter, but now on the 8th of June the weird, scary quakes have put us all on edge again. Today alone we have had 4 quakes over a 3.0 (so far, that is, because the day is only half over). I am scared and jumpy beyond belief. It feels like the ground is constantly shaking (there have been at least a dozen smaller quakes today, too). I moved here 2 years ago from Texas, and a hurricane or a flood is predictable. You can deal with predictable terror. This comes out of the blue, and usually it seems to happen in the middle of the night or on a weekend. Somehow I seem to waken during the "whoosh" or "low boom" before I feel the shaking or rolling. I know I'm not the only one starting to feel a little nuts. I don't like living here ever since this began, and as soon as my house sells, I'm going back to stable ground.

Sent by Julie R | 5:30 PM | 6-8-2008