Earthquakes I have known:

Jan. 18, 2018, Maine:

Rattled residents from several small towns flooded 911 with calls after a small earthquake hit coastal Maine on Wednesday evening. But no one was injured, and no significant damage was reported.

“I felt a rumbling sensation,” said Kate Cutko, director of the Bowdoinham Public Library. Her house is about 5 miles from the epicenter. “It was enough so that all of us — my family members — looked up at each other and said, ‘What was that?’ ” — Boston Globe, Jan. 18.

Sept. 4, 1981, Los Angeles:

My youngest, Jillana, and I were sitting at the kitchen table in our home in Hancock Park, in Los Angeles. We were eating bowls of Cap’n Crunch and talking. She paused and looked up when the house began to tremble, and the faux Tiffany lamp over the table began to sway back and forth.


“What was that?” I asked.

“Earthquake,” she said quietly and calmly as she ate the cereal.

Then another rumble, harder and shakier.

“What was that?” I said, dropping my spoon.

“Bigger earthquake,” she said, just as calmly.

“What do we do?”



“No, Jill, now. What should we do?”

“I have to go to school. You ready?” L.A. baby.

That’s the way it was with my kids. Earthquakes came and went in L.A., big ones, small ones, some scary, some just annoying. They all scared me. They kind of scared my wife, who is from Maine, where they never had earthquakes. But she was always calm, even in the big one, like the 1971 magnitude-6.7 San Fernando quake on Feb. 9, also known as the Sylmar quake, that collapsed several major freeway interchanges. That was scary.

The TV news that night said the Lower Van Norman Dam had sprung some cracks, and thousands of folks around it were evacuated. Evacuated? I’m a movie kid. That’s all I needed to hear.

The word popped up an image of Londoners in the blitz, or the Yellow Fever panics in New Orleans that killed 41,000 people over a century. People evacuated for their lives, pushing each other aside on buses, swimming to Algiers across the Mississippi.


None of the four of us even knew where Lower Van Norman Dam was. I called some friends. I called my agent. “Where the hell is the Lower Van Norman Dam?”

Nobody knew. We didn’t even know there was a dam in L.A. A dam?

“You mean like the Hoover Dam?” my oldest asked. “We studied that last year. That’s a big dam.”

“Is it gonna reach us? Should we bring our bikes in?” Jillana asked with a mouthful of cookie. L.A. babies.

Feb. 9, 1971, 6 a.m., Los Angeles:

I don’t remember the number, but it was big, and it was our first significant quake.


I was shaken out of a deep sleep and leapt to my feet.

“Get the girls” I shouted. “Get the girls and get under a door frame and stay there. Don’t panic. I’ve got this. I know what to do. Just get the girls,” I shouted, as I struggled into my slippers and ran down the hall towards the girls’ room.

It was empty. Their bedclothes were tossed about.

“The girls are gone!” I screamed.

Then I ran into the hall and looked toward the front door.

There She stood, holding a small suitcase, both daughters standing beside her, wearing their new robes and slippers, all three staring at me. Poor Daddy, the panic queen. A true story they still chide me about.


1954 Tachikawa, Japan:

I was returning from the mess hall at my base to my quarters. At that time we were quartered in a refurbished old World War II Japanese prison with bare cement floors and huge barred windows. All at once, unexpectedly, the 6-foot-tall lockers started dancing away from the wall as the building shook.

The houseboy who was mopping the floor just kept swishing the mop around as though it was a common occurrence; and to him, it was. He could see me gripping the door and laughed.

An officer later told me that a tremor occurs in Japan at least every five minutes, and each year there are up to 2,000 quakes that can be felt by people. True facts.

Earthquakes in Maine. I came here largely to avoid being in those places during the “big one.” And now they’ve followed me.

First were the ticks, then the snow, then H2N3 — and now, of all things, five earthquakes in one week in Maine. Five. Where can a boy run? Where can a boy hide?

Kudos to Jillana Devine-Knickel, who actually keeps records of such things.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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