What does an earthquake feel like?

I have lived in Southern California for over 25 years. I know what earthquakes feels like. For those of you who have never experienced an earthquake here is what an earthquake feels like.

Pretend there is a big thunderstorm in your area. Big, loud claps of thunder, thunder which shakes the room and the building you are in. You feel it. Boom. A large clap of thunder. BOOM! The big thunder clap shakes the room, the building, and vibrates the air and your body.

An earthquake feels the same way. Like a big clap of thunder. If you are indoors it shakes the room ... the building ... and you. Except, unlike thunder from the sky, an earthquake feels like UNDERGROUND thunder, thunder from under the ground. BOOM! A "BOOM" from below. Like a clap of thunder, an earthquake shakes the room, the building, and YOU.

Stronger earthquake = stronger longer "clap of underground thunder".

Now you know.

And, if you want to read a first-hand account of a major earthquake here is an excerpt from my book, "Stories Of A Lifetime".

WARNING: it's very scary!

Yes, California has earthquakes. We also get floods, droughts, wildfires, riots and assorted other plagues, both natural and man-made.

The earthquakes we do get (in Los Angeles) are mostly little shakers that you hardly notice or do get used to (you’ll have to take my word for it). Sometimes you get a lot of small or medium sized ones during a relatively short period of time, sometimes you don’t get any for years and years.

An earthquake is a very scary occurrence. However, while everyone is still waiting for the “big one” that will kill everybody, for hundreds of years Los Angeles residents have lived long and fruitful and happy lives without perishing in an earthquake, fire, flood or riot.

Earthquakes are fundamentally different than any other natural disasters like tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, etc. Other natural disasters you usually have some prior warning about. Earthquakes you don’t. And there is something prehistorically and fundamentally scary about the normally solid earth beneath your feet suddenly jolting and moving about on its own. Though it’s a natural phenomenon, an earthquake always feels so eerily unnatural.

On January 17, 1994, at 4:20 AM I was sound asleep. I vaguely heard the sliding glass patio door near the bed begin to mildly shake. Maybe a burglar? I thought. It kept shaking. Harder and harder. Then the whole room started to shake. It began to move. The room began to move! The bed was shaking violently, pieces of furniture were relocating themselves around the room. I heard crashing sounds from the kitchen and the bathroom. The entire building started to shake and groan.


I jumped up and opened the patio door so it wouldn’t break and shatter glass all over the floor. The lady I live with, my lifelong companion, Marilyn, jumped out of bed, still half-asleep. Second by second the shaking became stronger and stronger. Instinctively, I knew we were in trouble. Big trouble. The violent shaking went on and on. After about thirty seconds I knew that if it didn’t stop, if it went on for another ten or twenty seconds, the building would collapse … and we would be crushed to death.

For forty seconds (hold your breath for 40 seconds and see how long it feels) the strong shaking continued, stressing and straining everything to the breaking point.

Then, just as suddenly as it began, it stopped.

There was no electricity. No light. It was 4:30 in the morning and pitch black, adding to the disorientation and the fear. And, worst of all, no one knew what was coming next. Was this a precursor to an imminent, even bigger quake?

We had to get out of the building. Fast.

I grabbed a flashlight (which I always keep near the bed) and quickly surveyed the damage. I saw the destruction that the earthquake had wrought. Dishes had been ejected from the kitchen cabinets, the entire contents of the bathroom medicine cabinet had been forcibly strewn into the sink, onto the countertop and across the floor. The big heavy wooden canopy headboard, bolted to the wall at ceiling height, had come crashing down on the bed, where Marilyn’s head had been resting just minutes before.

We dressed hurriedly and left the building. We went to the adjacent parking lot and got into my jeep. A series of strong aftershocks rocked the jeep, the parking lot undulated in little waves. As a gray dawn made a hesitant appearance people started coming out of the buildings, still dressed in their nightclothes. Everyone was shook up, highly nervous and plenty scared. I turned the radio on in the jeep. Emergency newscasts gave us reports as they came in. This was a big quake. No surprise to us!

For several days following the initial quake many of us refused to go back into our apartments and slept on the floor of the nearby more sturdily constructed clubhouse instead. For a week after the quake, nervous as a cat, I slept with one arm around Marilyn and one eye open. For days and weeks and months afterward, the earth shook with aftershocks, some of them strong enough to be moderate earthquakes on their own!

In the San Fernando Valley, near where we live, many buildings completely collapsed. There were fatalities. One of the large concrete parking structures nearby was heavily damaged and was in danger of collapsing. My nerves were shot, and I too was in danger of collapsing!

The earthquake became known as the Northridge quake, named for the upscale community close to the epicenter. The quake was felt far and wide, as far as Las Vegas, some 200 miles away. The quake was officially calculated as a 6.9 (moderately strong) on the Richter Scale. But those of us who lived through it know it was a whole lot stronger than that!

You probably have to live here to fully understand this, but after a few months things got back to normal and, as usual, Southern Californians ignored the ever present threat of a killer quake and went about their sun-and-fun-filled lives.

So did I.

If you would like to read more amazing Stories Of A Lifetime click here