Monday, December 12, 2011

On Earthquakes

So, to preface this post, (which may turn out really long, but also really awesome) I tell about how, this last Sunday we had a combined Sunday school, during which we discussed emergency preparedness. One of the topics discussed was earthquakes. Most everyone who lives along the Wasatch Front has probably heard that we're right on a major fault line and that we're due for a big earthquake here really soon. This train of thought, plus everyone saying what to do in the case of an earthquake, got me wondering, "What would I do if there was an earthquake in Provo?" And, being me, the obvious answer that came to mind was, "Grab some gear, put my machete on my back, put on my Indiana Jones hat, and go out and help people!" That being said, I present the following. I know that I'm not an amazing writer, and I'm afraid that character depth and coherence may be a little lacking. It may also have a few typos, since it's possible that I lost my stomach for proofreading after I wrote my history capstone. However, it's a way for me to live out, at least in some form, my delusion of grandeur, and that's why I'm writing it. I'm sharing it because I just wanted to. Oh, and one final disclaimer: I have done absolutely zero research on this, so I will say right now that if this isn't true to life, or even ridiculous in any way, don't worry about it. It's fiction for goodness sakes!  That being said, I present to you [Insert Awesome Title Here].

As the dust began to settle, Cliff Chandler crawled out from under his desk, feeling thankful at the moment for a few things. One of them was the fact that today was his day off. He had read that driving during an earthquake was not desirable. The second he felt as he looked at the chunks of ceiling that had crushed his desktop computer. He was thankful that he had a sturdy desk. Cliff was also thankful that he was awesome, but he was thankful for that all the time, so he didn't give that one much thought. Looking around his house, he was also glad to see that the majority of it was standing. There were a few advantages to living in an old house, one of which was that they definitely don't build them like they used to. Looking outside through his broken window, Cliff saw cracks in the pavement on the street and several cars that had jostled into each other, steam coming out from under a few hoods. He was no earthquake expert, but he was guessing the one that had just struck was "The Big One" that middle school teachers had been threatening their students with for years. The apartment complex across the street was still standing, but two of its stairwells had fallen down.

Cliff dove back under his desk as the ground began shaking again and then stopped as suddenly as it had started. Having never lived through a large earthquake before, the idea of aftershocks had been just that: an idea. Now, he realized, they were definitely a reality, and one to keep in mind. Unfortunately, Cliff had other things on his mind at the moment. Pulling his cell phone out of his pocket, he was astounded when the call to his parents in Idaho went through. He had always heard that cell towers would be knocked down in an earthquake, and then, even if they survived, the network would be overloaded. Apparently that was an exaggeration. "I guess Verizon really is the nation's most reliable wireless network!" Cliff said to himself as he listened to his parents' phone ringing. However, being true to form, his parents didn't answer. So, he left a message on their answering machine. "You've probably heard about the earthquake in Provo by now," he said, voice shaky at first but growing stronger as he spoke more. "Well, you don't need to worry about me, I'm good. I love you!" He figured he'd get crap for such a short message later, but that was enough to let his parents know that he was safe.

His next call he had to try several times before the phone started ringing. However, when he heard a familiar woman's voice say, "Cliff?" from the person on the other side, he breathed a sigh of relief. "Ashley?" he asked,. "Are you all right?"

The response his best friend gave lessened his feeling of relief. "That's hard to say," she said. "What if I were to tell you that I'm pinned under something really heavy and I'm pretty sure that one of my legs is broken?" Cliff could hear the strain in her voice now, and even through his renewed worry, he had to make note of Ashley's attempt at humor. There was a reason they were such good friends.

"I would tell you to call 911." Cliff said. "I'd imagine you've tried that already, though, right? Unless this really is just a hypothetical situation."

"It didn't go through," Ashley said, "And unfortunately it isn't hypothetical. I daresay emergency services are overloaded right now."

Cliff could hear in her voice that she was close to tears. Cliff had a strong protective instinct, and hearing that made it kick into overdrive. He could hear his voice becoming more and more steady as resolve began to fill him. "Keep trying 911!" he said into the phone, "And don't move! I'm going to come over there and see what I can do for you!"

"Be careful!" Ashley told him. "Who knows what it's like out there!"

"Hey," Cliff said, "They don't call me Captain Danger for nothing!"

"No one calls you that, Cliff."

"Well, after today, they will!" Cliff responded, trying hard to communicate confidence that he didn't actually feel. "Hang in there and I'll see you soon!" They said goodbye and Cliff closed his phone and returned it to his pocket. He had been planning on calling his other friends, but they would have to wait. He re-emerged from under his desk, wary of further aftershocks, and stepped over chunks of the ceiling to his gear closet. Once again, Cliff was thankful that he was awesome. He had spent the last summer canyoneering, and he kept his gear right in his house.

He pulled out his backpack and looked inside. There was his climbing harness, as well as the 100 foot static rope that he had borrowed from his friend, Gavin. He decided to leave those in there, because he might need them. He wasn't sure what kind of havoc the earthquake had wreaked on Provo, but a rope and a harness rarely went amiss. To go along with those was about 50 feet of tubular webbing for anchor construction. Cliff left that, too. He was also glad that he had been too lazy to empty out his hydration bladder after his last trip. It was about 2/3 full, giving him two liters of water. There were also a couple random left-over granola bars and half a pack of jerky. Closing his backpack and swinging it up onto his shoulders, he saw his machete in the back of the closet. He had bought it on his mission, more for a joke than anything, as he had served in Oregon, and had never really used it. However, as it caught his eye, he decided to take it, just in case. Also, even in this moment when Ashley's safety was on the line, he knew it would make him look really cool. He stuck the machete, still in its sturdy canvas sheath, between his backpack and back, and it felt solid there, with the handle sticking up over his left shoulder.

As he walked toward the door, he grabbed his Indiana Jones hat and put it on his head. If I'm going to look cool, I might as well go all the way! Cliff thought that way a lot. However, his exit onto the street wasn't nearly as dramatic as he had suspected. The awning over his front steps had collapsed, and he had to push it out of the way. He looked toward his car, which, surprisingly enough, looked okay. However, he looked at the streets and the cars that were there, none of which were moving, and decided he'd better walk. Ashley lived across town, and he didn't want to waste time trying to get through blocked roads. Turning east, Cliff set himself a speedy pace. He had always been a strong hiker, and he walked to work every day. It should take about half an hour to get over there. Only half an hour. Then I can be there with her, and hopefully do something to help. 

Half an hour, unfortunately, turned out to be a very conservative time estimate. As he turned the corner from his house onto the street heading east, he saw something that didn't present much of an obstacle, but which seemed to show a measure of the damage to the city. Of the two iconic smokestacks of the Provo City Power Plant, only one was still standing, and that slightly askew. The other one was laying down, having fallen in a southwest direction, crushing part of the power building and part of a house on the other side of the small park on the corner. Well, that explains why my lights didn't turn on, Cliff thought as he picked his way through someone's back yard and around the top of the fallen smokestack. Around him, he saw people coming out of their houses to survey the damages. Some were calling for help, but Cliff tuned them out. He had an objective. Getting around the smokestack, he resumed his steady pace, stepping over and around random pieces of rubble that littered the sidewalk and street.

Five minutes later, Cliff stood at the edge of what had once been University Avenue. In its place, a crack had opened up in the ground, barring Cliff's progress. Looking up and down the street he didn't see an end to it. Well, this will drastically change the dynamic of traffic flow in town, he thought. The crack was approximately fifty feet deep and twenty-five feet across, and many cars were visible at the bottom. University Avenue was the busiest street in Provo. Many cries for help were issuing from the crack. Can I really just pass all of these people by? Cliff took off his backpack and pulled out his rope and harness. I just need a Tyrolean Traverse. It's just a really big pothole. However, as he started pulling on his harness, he cries for help grated on his nerves. Sometimes, he thought, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. (Turns out that Star Trek can be inspiring!) Ashley will understand. Pulling out his phone, he texted Ashley and told her he was on his way and to hang in there. The text didn't send immediately. Apparently phone towers were getting more overloaded. Then he tied a sling made of webbing around a nearby tree, tied his rope to it, and tossed the end down into the chasm, being careful not to hit anyone. Ropes were heavy, and Cliff had learned from experience that it was unpleasant to get hit on the head by a falling one. Cliff rappelled quickly. A fifty foot rappel was easy for him, and he was at the bottom of the crack and standing on the roof of a car in seconds. In fact, it was a familiar car. Down here the cries for help were louder and they echoed slightly. Interspersed among the cries were moans of pain. However, Cliff was focused on the black Honda Civic he was standing on. The car was tilted at a 45 degree angle, and moving up to the drivers side, he looked in the window. The airbag had gone off, but Cliff could clearly see his friend and roommate Andrew Jones in the drivers seat, unconscious, bleeding slightly from a small head wound.

Holy crap, Cliff thought, pounding on the window. Why are all of the people important to me getting hurt here? "Andrew!" he yelled, "Wake up!" Inside, Andrew started to stir, moaning slightly. Straddling the door, Cliff pulled on the handle and managed to get the door open a crack. Putting his fingers under the edge of the door, Cliff pulled with all of his strength, managing to get the door open.

"Cliff?" Andrew asked groggily, slowly taking in Cliff's climbing harness, machete, and backpack and seeing the rope going up to the edge of the chasm behind him. "What the heck are you doing here? What happened?"

"There will be time to explain that later, Jones," Cliff said, offering his hand. "Are you alright? Ashley's in trouble, and if I'm going to do any good here, I'm going to need your help. Also, why didn't you ask, 'How come you look like a total bad-A?'"

Andrew smiled in spite of himself. "Slipped my mind," he replied. He was starting to move experimentally. "I think I'm alright, but I'll be feeling this in the morning." Andrew took Cliff's hand and pulled himself out of the car. Aside from the blood on his head, he looked fine. "Oh," he added, "and you look ridiculous."

"Alright then," Cliff said. "I need to get you out of here, and then I need to get to Ashley's house. But I can't just leave all of these people stuck down here. I'm going to ascend this rope and then pull you up. Then I'm going to need you to use the rope to pull more people out."

"Right," Andrew said. "While you're going up I'll check on some of these other people." Both Cliff and Andrew knew some first aid from their time as boy scouts. That had been several years ago, but the basics of first aid were easy to remember. As Andrew turned to leave, Cliff turned back to the rope. Ascending ropes was always really annoying, but at least he had a pretty flat wall to go up. He used a piece of thin accessory cord that was hanging from his harness to tie a knot around the rope that wouldn't slide when weighted, but would when he took his weight off of it, leaving a long loop for his foot. Then he used another length of cord to tie the same knot, attaching this one to the belay loop of his harness with a spare carabiner. That being done, Cliff began the laborious process of ascending.

About five minute later, he dragged himself over the edge of the crack, gasping for breath. Being fat never made ascending any easier. Cliff gulped water from his backpack, then, after taking a couple minutes to catch his breath, he pulled up the end of the rope, tied a loop in the bottom, and tossed it back down. "Andrew!" He yelled, "sit in that loop and hold on!" Cliff quickly rigged a haul system using carabiners and started pulling Andrew, who had come from helping a couple people two cars behind him, up to the edge of the chasm. When Andrew finally came up over the lip, Cliff's arms were burning.

"You're going to want to pull some more uninjured people up first to help you pull others," Cliff told Andrew as he got to his feet, putting the rope aside. "Pulling it up by yourself is really hard on your arms. Now, I need to use that rope, and then this big old hole in the ground is all yours."

Another of the fun things that Cliff had hanging from his harness was called an Ibis hook. He tied that securely to the end of the rope and started spinning it around in a circle next to him. About twenty-five feet across he thought. I have plenty of rope, but can I make the toss? And if I even make the toss will it hook to something? Cliff's first toss made it across, but didn't come near anything the hook could attach to. He had his eye on a fallen tree, hoping there would be a branch the hook would go around. His second and third tosses didn't make it across the chasm. Growling angrily at himself, Cliff set his feet and prepared for his fourth toss. He had to get to Ashley, and fast! She hadn't texted him back, and Cliff could only hope for the best. Once again using all his strength, and thinking it might not be the last time he did that today, Cliff flung the rope across the chasm. The hook fell among the branches of the fallen tree and caught. Pulling the rope tight, Cliff gave it a couple firm tugs. It gave a little bit back and forth, and he could see a sturdy-looking branch on the tree moving slightly. "That'll have to be good enough," he said to Andrew. Putting a carabiner on the sling that was still tied around the tree, Cliff ran the rope through it and pulled it tight. Handing the end to Andrew, he said, "Hold this while I go across."

"Cliff, that's crazy!" Andrew said. "You don't know if that tree will hold!"

"I don't have a choice," Cliff said dramatically. "Well, maybe I do, but I've always wanted to say that. Besides, do you see a better way across this thing?"

Andrew shook his head reluctantly. "Be careful, then."

"Yeah, that's the standing order," Cliff said. Andrew pulled the rope tight, then wrapped it around himself and sat down. Cliff took a short loop of webbing and attached it to his belay loop, then put a carabiner through the end. He put the carabiner on the rope and locked it. "Here I go," he said nervously. Then he moved to the edge of the crack and stepped out into space.

Cliff had done Tyrolean Traverses before, but never this high. It had always been over potholes maybe ten feet deep. However, his resolve to get to and help Ashley helped him as he pulled himself hand over hand along the rope. He did his best not to look down at the people still at the bottom of the chasm. Andrew will help them, he thought, and kept moving.

When he finally arrived at the other side, Cliff detached the hook from the tree. He hesitated, then took off his harness, tied it to the rope and threw it across to Andrew. "Use that if you need it!" he yelled across the chasm. Andrew knew how to wear a climbing harness and he knew how to rappel. "I'll see you later!" Then he turned and started walking toward Ashley's house again, his backpack still on his back, but considerably lighter.

A couple blocks later, Cliff saw an apartment building that had partially collapsed. Gathered around it and poking through the rubble were several people, probably the previous tenants. As he walked past, still keeping his brisk pace, Cliff smelled something familiar, but which he did not like. Gas. Natural Gas. And a lot of it. Running to the group of about twenty people, Cliff yelled, "Clear off! Don't you smell the gas? This place could go up any minute!" The people just stared at him, apparently they were in shock. Also, Cliff thought, the fact that he looked like a complete bad-A might have something to do with it. Cliff started to move among them, pushing them into motion, moving them away from the fallen building. It took a minute, but he soon had the entire group moving down the block.

Back in the rubble, Steve the mouse was in a good mood. He didn't know what had made the ground go all movey earlier, or had it been a long time ago? Steve, being a mouse, didn't have much of a sense of time. However, he did like the way the building was set up now. All of these piles of things made for lots of places to hide, and the people weren't even in here anymore! Steve didn't like people. They always yelled and threw things at him when they saw him. But, here in all of these big and small pieces of things, he didn't have to worry about people. He could also smell food, and he was moving in that direction. Steve smelled something else, too, a strong smell, but he could smell the food through it, and he wanted the food.

As he wandered along, leaving small pawprints in the dust, Steve saw a small round thing that seemed to be coming out of the ground. The funny, strong smell that he had been smelling was coming from that. Steve didn't spare it much more than a glance. He was after the food he smelled. As he walked by, his tail knocked into something larger and flatter and shinier but also round that had been balanced precariously on its side. The touch from his tail was all it took to knock the thing over. The second thing that was round hit the first thing that was also round but not as big, and Steve, who had stopped to watch (Steve loved watching things fall) only saw a small flash, followed by a much larger flash, before he never saw anything again.

A block and a half away, still herding people, Cliff felt the shockwave from the explosion. Later, he would tell his friends that he didn't look at it, because cool guys don't look at explosions. However, he definitely did, and watched as a fireball enveloped what was left of the apartment building, and, unbeknownst to Cliff, Steve. All of the people he had been herding away turned around to look, too. With that, Cliff figured that his work here was done, and kicked himself into a run. It was only a few more blocks to Ashley's house, and he hoped that she was still okay. She has to still be okay!

Ashley's house was near Kiwanis Park, one of Cliff's favorite places to go in Provo. As he walked up, he saw that two of the walls and the roof had fallen in, and that the other two walls didn't look too long for this world. He ran to the open side of the house, shouting Ashley's name.

"I'm here!" came the pained, but still strong response. Ashley was in what had been the living room. She was laying on the floor, pinned, as she had said, at the torso by a large piece of the wall with rubble on top of it. While Ashley was a tough girl, Cliff probably couldn't have lifted the weight that was on top of her, at least not from her position. She smiled when she saw him. "Well, I'm happy to see you!"

"Likewise," Cliff, said, not able to repress a smile despite the trouble Ashley was in. "So, how did you manage this?"

"Oh, shut up," she said. "Are you going to get this mess off of me or not?" Cliff took off his backpack and machete. He gave Ashley a drink of water and then, working quickly, started clearing the debris off the top of the piece of wall, which was mostly intact.

With all the rubble cleared off, he said, "Well, right now I'm wishing I went to the gym more frequently. Or ever. Here goes nothing." Bending his knees, Cliff grabbed the wall next to where it was sitting on Ashley and started to lift. Slowly, the wall moved upward until it was at his chest height. "I don't think I can get it any higher!" he said in a strained voice. "Can you move out from under it?"

"Maybe." Ashley set her face determinedly and started dragging herself out from under the fallen wall. Tears fell from her eyes as she moved her left leg, the lower part of which was bent at an awkward angle, but she didn't make a sound.

Cliff's muscles were tiring fast. He had never held something this heavy for such a long time. He didn't know that he had the ability to hold something this heavy for as long as he had already, and Ashley was only halfway out from under the wall. Gathering his will, he focused on the task of holding his arms in place and not letting them drop as Ashley slowly moved backward. Finally, both her feet cleared the space where the wall had been. Cliff stepped back and finally let go of the wall. As it crashed to the ground, he fell as well, arms and most of his body shaking. He turned his head and smiled at Ashley.

"Well, that could have gone worse," he said. "Now all we have to do is make you a splint and get you to the hospital, if that's still standing."

"Sounds like a walk in the park!" she said.

"You don't know that half of it," Cliff replied. Then, despite everything, they both started laughing.

Okay, so that's a pretty good conclusion, right? I could have gone on. I am a little disappointed that I never got to use my machete, but maybe I'll make another installment with looters who try to beat us up when we see them stealing from a store or something. I would have put it in this one, but it was starting to get pretty long, so I decided against it. So, that's all I've got. I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I liked writing it, because I'm not going to lie, I felt pretty awesome. :) I'll finish this post, as usual, with an awesome picture of me.

This is Captain Danger out.


  1. Basically awesome! I like Steve the mouse. :)

  2. Poor Steve! I hope that I survived this massive earthquake!