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Tonight we experienced our first California earthquake. It was magnitude 5.2 on the Richter scale, which is classified as “moderate”; the amount of energy released is equivalent to a 32 kiloton explosion, which seems like a lot to me, but is only about one thousandth as powerful as the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989.

It’s interesting how one reacts to something totally unexpected like an earthquake. At first I heard the cups rattling in the cupboards, and then noticed that the house was shaking. At this stage my mind was still working hard to fit what was happening into some category that it was used to, like “Ahinoam is knocking over the glasses” (she was getting us both a drink of water at the time) or “Aviad is jumping around in his room”. Then, as the shaking gets stronger and the rattling gets louder, there is a sudden leap to a new interpretation: “It’s an earthquake! Everybody get outside!” (This turns out not to be the right thing to do.) In this case, by the time we started moving outside everything was over, and I was left to deal with the after-effects of the adrenalin rush and calm down the children, who were dealing with the same effects, very nervous and full of questions.

My usual policy in such cases is that it’s more important to be reassuring than strictly accurate:

Is there going to be another earthquake?

No, there’s no more likely to be an earthquake now than any other time. A big lie, because I know all about aftershocks.

Aren’t seismographs a dreadful waste of paper?

They were in the old days, but nowadays all the data is stored on computer. A shot in the dark, but apparently accurate.