When you experience a story first-hand, it does certainly put it in a different perspective.
The Yahoo! News newsroom is in Santa Monica, California – 45 miles (almost directly) West of the epicenter for yesterday’s 5.4 magnitude quake. And boy did we feel it! Our entire building was rocking back and forth for what must have been half a minute.
Many of the out-of-towners’ first instinct was the get out of the building. But to everyone’s credit we stayed put, and as soon as the shacking was over we were jumping on our desks to report the news.
We rushed out the breaking news alerts, and soon the trickle of information started coming in, and eventually it was a flood of mostly good news – no major damage, no injuries, nothing serious except for a few unfortunate families in Yorba Linda, near the epicenter, who suffered serious earthquake damage to their homes. But considering how strong and wide the quake was, it easily could have been worse.
Of course, journalists aren’t immune from basic human emotions – and one of the things we were all doing in between key strokes and fact-checks was calling family and getting in touch with everyone to let them know we’re safe and find out how they were. Phone lines were jammed or down in the long minutes right after the quake. It took a good 30 minutes or more before I could get through to my family around Los Angeles.
Some of the out-of-towners were calling relatives far away to tell them the news that they finally experience an authentic California earthquake. Luckily, it wasn’t accompanied by the kind of disaster which we’ve seen far too often.
Another interesting note: in the initial reports journalists from a number of news outlets were reporting on the fact that the epicenter of the quake was out in an outskirt suburb – a fairly new one – where modern buildings were subject to recent safety codes. And the reports were suggesting that those new codes likely helped save lives and prevent damage.
I’d like to have seen more follow-up reporting on that, to find out whether that was indeed true, and what that teaches about quakes’ potential in older communities and what preventative measures we can take. The L.A. Times touched on that topic today.