We just returned from the Bay Area to see Leila’s mom and a first visit with our six-week-old granddaughter, Nora, and her three-year-old sister, Leah – and oh yes the parents, who seemed only slightly sleep deprived. We took Leah on an outing to the Bay Area Discovery Center to give Colin and Anna some time without two children.
We also got Leah to stand still just long enough to capture a photo of Leah, Nora and Corduroy. Yes I know that Corduroy should be a brown bear with green overalls, but not in Leah’s creative mind.
And now to the main theme of the post. . .
An Earthquake in DC? Who would of thought?
I wondered who was moving something heavy down the hall as my desk lightly shook and a faint rumble started. When the NSF office building started to really shake, my mind went to, “these aren’t supposed to happen on the East Coast.” As the shaking got as bad as I remember during the Nisqually Earthquake in 2001, I moved to the doorway wondering if the shaking was going to stop or would it get stronger? Was stuff going to come tumbling off my shelves? Was I really going to die in an earthquake that’s not on the west coast? And then it stopped. I continued to stand in the doorway and watched the large mobile that hangs in the building’s atrium continue to swing slowly back and forth.
People stopped by and said, “What are we supposed to do? Where are we supposed to go? Was that really an earthquake? I’ve never been in one?” We clearly know what to do in case of a fire or terrorist attack – but not during an earthquake. I was wondering if I was standing under a doorway that was part of a non load-bearing wall?
Leila was at home in downtown DC, where the initial reaction was – terrorist attack. Did someone bomb the Metro, which runs a block away? Metro was fine, but ran at 15 miles per hour until the tracks were checked – which mean it took me five times as long to get home in a very crowded train.
At magnitude 5.8, the earthquake was nothing like the Nisqually at 6.8, but it damaged some iconic structures. The Washington Monument is still closed, as is the National Cathedral that lost some of its gargoyles. A couple of chimneys in the oldest Smithsonian building (The Castle) are reinforced with plywood siding.
The earthquake was the talk of the town – for two days.
And then Hurricane Irene
We then shifted to the impeding high winds and rain of Hurricane Irene, which was moving ever so slowly at 12 miles per hour up the East Coast. Waiting for Irene was somewhere between waiting for the doctor to come be back to rip the band-aid off your arm or knowing you have a physics test the first day after the Christmas Holidays. The anticipation was agonizing – hourly updates on its projected path, predictions of the wind speeds and rainfall, running to the store to buy batteries, food and candles. The city got prepared for flooding.
The West Wing during a hurricane
Unlike the earthquake, we knew in great detail when the storm would hit DC. Rain would start at noon on Saturday (8/27) and end by 11:00am on Sunday. With such precision, we were still able to enjoy lunch with friends and a long-planned tour of the West Wing of the White House. People who work in the White House can give tours to up to five friends. Mike Feder, a colleague who works for OSTP (Office of Science and Technology Policy) arranged for a tour at 1:10pm. There are tours every 10 minutes throughout the day and we were among the last before they were cancelled for the rest of the day due to Irene.
As you would expect there are no photographs inside the building. You get to look in the Oval Office and see the well used couches in the center of the room and the art around the edge of the room. You get to look in the Cabinet Room, which for me brings back images of the movie Dave, where Kevin Kline is sitting in the President’s chair – the one with the higher back in the center along one side – and is trying to memorize where each of the cabinet members sit.
When you exit the West Wing, you finally get the one opportunity to take a photo to prove you were there.
Back to the hurricane
We then dashed up the vacated streets to catch Metro home to wait out the storm. The storm passed through DC in the middle of the night, so on Sunday morning we woke up to find the physics exam was not as bad as anticipated and the bandage came off without hurting too much. This wasn’t true for people who lived farther east and north of DC.
We even went out for our usual walk around The Mall – not many people there. There were a number of tree limbs down, and other signs of heavy weather.
As we passed the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art, the flags were tattered, but still flying straight out in the 20 mile an hour winds. Given all the hype and concern over what might happen, you felt a bit like Frances Scott Key when he penned, “. . . and the flag was still there.”
Future Panoramas from DC
Two blog posts in six months. I’m not doing too well, but do have some plans for future posts if I can get better at finding the time to write. If all goes well, look for:
- Only in Washington DC
- Washington DC Survival Guide
- The rest of my, “In Search of History and Heritage”
- Small town county fair
- Monticello and Montpelier – homes of bankrupt presidents