Friday, July 7, 2017

I Felt the Earth Move

Damage in Bonn (Source)
We had been in Germany a little over three months, it was a Monday, the 13th of April, 25 years ago. The time was around three in the morning. I woke up convinced that the end had arrived. Not near, arrived.

The house we lived in in Germany had two floors and a basement. The master bedroom and the girls' bedrooms were all on the second floor, which had a slanted ceiling with thick beams holding the roof up. (Much like in the photo above, only our beams were real, and very solid. I know, I slammed my head into them more than once. Yeah, I'm a slow learner...) The Naviguesser's bedroom was down in the basement.

Well, I awoke to the bed shaking, confused as Hell I rolled on to my back and realized that those heavy ceiling beams were moving. I could actually see them displacing quite a bit, along with the rest of the ceiling, the bed, the furniture in the bedroom, and of course, The Missus Herself and I.

"What's happening?" asked the love of my life.

"We're all going to die!!!" I squealed while grabbing onto my dear wife.

No, I did not acquit myself well in those first few moments of the Great Roermond Earthquake of 1992*.

Damage was light to moderate with unreinforced brick masonry buildings constructed prior to 1920 suffering a greater rate of damage.

Worst affected was the small town of Herkenbosch in Limbourg province, Netherlands (population 4,000), where a medieval church appeared near collapse.

According to a survey carried-out by the EEFIT team in 38 towns and villages in the affected region (excl. Herkenbosch), the worst damage was observed in Oserbruch, about 4 km east of Heinsberg, Germany. In an area of 10 km around Heinsberg more than 30% of the old masonry buildings had been damaged, though not severely. In Holland's Roermond town many historic buildings were damaged.

The earthquake caused significant damage to Heinsberg, a German town of 36,000 near the border with Holland. A police spokesman said 21 people were injured by falling debris, four of them seriously, and about 150 buildings were damaged. A 400-kilogram piece of stone fell through the roof of the 13th century cathedral in Cologne.

In total fewer than 100 buildings were badly damaged and would probably have to be rebuilt, while around 1300 buildings had light to moderate damage. (Source)
See the map with the blue arrow pointing to the blue dot? The blue dot is the normally peaceful village of Waldfeucht in Kreis Heinsberg, in the province of Nordrhein-Westfalen, where Your Humble Scribe and the members of his immediate family were living in April of 1992. (The red star marks the epicenter of the quake.)

The map is a "shake map" which is meant to give you an idea of what it felt like where you were. Yes, we lived in the yellow zone where the perceived shaking was "Strong." Oh yes indeed, it felt strong. Was I afraid?

Heavens to Betsy, oh shit, oh dear, you betcha!

Like I said, "We're all going to die!"

In my defense, I wasn't quite awake yet. Try this, get a giant to grab your house and shake it firmly in the middle of the freaking night while you are sound asleep and expecting nothing like an earthquake. Let me know how that works for you. (I'm sure this kind of thing happens in California all the time, so those of you from there are probably used to it. Right?)

Anyhoo. Once I had regained my wits, shortly after the angry giant had tired of shaking my house, I threw on some clothes and began doing a damage assessment.

Wife? Okay.

Daughters? Okay.

Son? Okay. In fact the lad was still sound asleep. You could drive a frigging tank through his bedroom and he wouldn't wake up. When we were all talking about the earthquake after sunrise he was heard to say, "What earthquake?" I kid you not.

So, everyone seemed to be in one piece, all a bit rattled (literally), well except fpr the junior male of the tribe, and the house seemed to be all in one piece, nothing cracked, shifted, out-of-place, or bent. So I stumbled outside.

Upon reaching the street, I noted that every light in the village was on. Seemed to be the case over in the Dutch villages across the border as well. One of the neighbors, a pleasant younger fellow who spoke English quite well, came over and asked, "What was that?"

It struck me then that earthquakes could not have been a very common occurrence in that neck of the woods. I'd experienced tremors before (the time in Colorado when the couch upon which I was sitting was tapping the wall, without any assistance from me, springs to mind) so I immediately thought "earthquake." My neighbor, living in Germany at the end of the Cold War was thinking something else, I could see it in his eyes.

Now he knew that I was in the military and, like many civilians, thought that I must be privy to all sorts of classified insider military tidbits and would I like to perhaps share? Now like I said, my first thought was "earthquake," my second thought, after seeing my neighbor's face, was World War III. I mean a nuke going off over towards Bonn would provide a similar earth shaking feeling, nicht wahr?

Well sure it would, but there should have been a bright flash, warning sirens, and other indicators that perhaps Big Bad Ivan needed something to take the Russian peoples' minds off of the collapse of the Soviet Union and what better way to do that then the old European custom of invading a neighboring country? So I understood where my neighbor was coming from, when I pointed out that we still had power, and that there should have been other indicators of Armageddon around us, I figured we were okay, it was "just" an earthquake.

Was he relieved? You betcha!

To give you an idea of where this all happened, in conjunction with that italicized text above, here's another map -

Google Maps
I have circled Roermond (near where the epicenter of the quake was), Waldfeucht (where I had my moment of sheer, gibbering terror), Heinsberg, the county seat and where there was a lot of damage, and the town of Herkenbosch where the damage was severe. As you can see by the map scale, it's not a very big area. But as that opening picture suggests, the damage was pretty widespread. Bonn is about 80 miles from Waldfeucht, wie der Adler fliegt.

Note that first sentence in the italicized text? - Damage was light to moderate with unreinforced brick masonry buildings constructed prior to 1920 suffering a greater rate of damage.

There weren't a whole lot of buildings in my area which had been built prior to the '20s. Seems the Air Force had been through the place in the mid-40s and knocked a lot of those old buildings down. The Army knocked down what was left as they fought the Wehrmacht and Waffen SS as those defeated wretches retreated towards the Rhine.

Hückelhoven, nicht so weit von Waldfeucht (Source)
Our damage wasn't nearly as bad in '92 as it had been in '45.

Still, an earthquake is pretty scary to wake up to. Go ahead, ask me how I know....

* Which was of moment magnitude 5.4, about the same Richter Scale-wise, or so my research tells me. Not huge, not small. Definitely not fun.


  1. My wife and I were doing some outside work when Philly got rattled in August of 2011, unlike your experience ours was more of a "What was that?" and immediately followed by "Was that an earthquake? No way!"

    I hope I don't ever experience what you went through.

  2. If the house is a rockin'... WE'RE ALL GONNA DIEEEEEEE!

  3. I would imagine extra scary if it wakes you from a deep sleep.

  4. Ex-pat Californian here. Lived through two major quakes in the '90s, the biggest being the Northridge quake in '94. Plus a few less interesting ones. Thought process usually went "Why is my bed shaking... Oh, I guess it's another earthquake... this has been going on for a while, I should probably get up and stand in a doorway or something... and it's over."

    Earthquakes don't bother me much. As a (probably permanent) resident of the Midwest now though, tornados scare the fire-truckin shit out of me.

    1. That was a big one.

      Being a native New Englander we don't see many earthquakes or tornadoes, so yes, terrified of them I am.

      Hurricanes and typhoons, though I've been in a few of those, aren't quite as terrifying, but are damned scary enough.

      Oddly enough, though I know blizzards can kill ya, I'm used to those. But only the foolish would ignore being prepared for those!

  5. Denver, fall of 1967, sitting on a veranda in the Capitol Hill area drinking coffee with my father, we watched a ripple in the ground coming towards us. Looked like a ripple in the water of a pond. Gave us a good shake.

    Then my father told me of being in a major quake, Assam area of India, in 1945 that destroyed the air base.

    1. I don't like feeling, or seeing, the earth shimmy and shake. Not at all.

  6. I had a similar experience with my first quake out here in SoCal- ran outside in my underwear at 2am and fortunately was the only one out there. Ran back inside to get my roommate up and he just rolled over. By then the quake stopped. He was from San Francisco so he wasn't worried at all. Now I realize it's either not a problem or it's too late to do anything about it.

    1. That's a good point, no problem, or too late to do anything.

      Still frightening if you don't know any better.

      (The mental picture of you running about the yard in your undies at 2 AM seems so, I dunno, Southern Californian?)

  7. Like Aaron, a displaced Californian here. Big one for us was 1989 Loma Prieta. Jeanie was downtown Santa Cruz and watched a couple of buildings come down. Our chimney was destroyed and a lot of drywall nails had to be reset. One does become accustomed to the occasional rattling at night. AND they are over before you wake up.
    Matthew was nastier.

    1. That's the thing with earthquakes and tornadoes, extremely violence over a very brief span of time.

      Hurricanes and typhoons form, you watch them travel, strengthen and weaken, zig one way, zag another, then they come roaring in. The sustained violence of one of those is breath-taking (literally for some folks) and the violence covers a wide area. They are extremely worrisome. It's the one thing which makes me nervous about living on the coast.

  8. There was an earthquake in San Diego when I was in HM A School. Well, the epicenter was north of LA and it was alleged to be a "purty good one." I didn't notice it but a lot of people said they did. Close as ever I came. I do expect to feel it when Yellowstone blows up, as long as we don't get creamed by an asteroid first. I imagine I'd feel the asteroid impact as well.

    There was a 5.8 at Lincoln, Montanny night before last. I get the sense that it was initially erroneously reported as Lincoln, Nebrasky. Either way, I didn't feel a thing, being 400 miles from one Lincoln and 800 miles from the other.

    We get tornadoes around here but up above 5,000 feet there's just not enough atmosphere to grow them bigger than f1. Most are f0. Lightning, hail, and -- in the winter -- blizzards are larger concerns. But those pale in comparison to the danger of driving near the senior center at lunchtime.

    1. I doubt we'd feel the asteroid impact, we'd be fried by the heat of its entrance into the atmosphere. On the opposite side of the globe, who knows. I don't trust movies for an accurate depiction of such things.

      I did note the earthquake out yonder (Scott the Badger mentioned it at your place I believe), didn't think you'd be impacted by that, as you say, you're a fair piece from either Lincoln.

      All the weather effects you cite, I've experienced. Some scary sh!t right there.

      Driving near the senior center at lunchtime, copy that.

    2. I had forgotten how hard it is to kill a midget giraffe, so I was concerned.

    3. On Facebook Shaun posted that his DNA test said he was a midget giraffe.

    4. Hahahaha!

      How did I miss THAT? Priceless that is.

  9. Having lived in NorCal for some years, I have felt a few 'quakes. The most interesting one was while in a WWII barracks.

    Thanks for the post.

    Paul L. Quandt

    1. Ouch, WWII barracks. They still had a couple of those at Lowry when I was there.

      Rickety described them well.

  10. I woke up one morning at 4:30 with the bed shaking. Thought "what the heck?" Then noticed my DH at the time was still snoring, and then the stuff on the dressers started rattling...had the "OMG it's a earthquake!" moment. Woke up DH who peered around bleary-eyed and said "Nothing's shaking, what are you talking about?" Of course, by that time, nothing was...but in upstate NY (Capital District Area) that was not earthquake country. The quake was up in the Adirondack's. I was proven right when the news came on.

    The most recent time was a couple of years ago in west MI, I was downstairs, doing laundry, when everything started rattling from west to east through the basement. Thought at first it was a big truck or tractor going by, when DH yelled "did you feel that earthquake?" All I wanted to do then was get out of the basement!!

    I can handle blizzards, no problem, just hunker down. Hurricanes are best if you can just get out of the way, or up high enough to be out of the flooding, but you can keep tornados and earthquakes! Definitely not my favorite things.

    1. I feel ya. Tomorrow's post covers some more scary things Mother Nature has to offer.

      (Tornadoes being one!)


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