WASHINGTON---I heard a thunderous noise first. Then the house started shaking. It did not stop. I was in my bedroom on the second floor of my house, located less than a mile from the National Cathedral. I never thought it was an earthquake. These things don't happen here, right?
The shaking was growing more frequent, the waves of vibrations sweeping through the room becoming more intense, the noise louder.
It was as if a helicopter was landing on my roof.
I thought my home was collapsing, or the addition to my 1920s era house was suddenly pulling off the main structure, or my flat roof was caving for seemingly no reason on this bright and sunny day.
But I can't say I was much interested in the cause at the moments it was happening, puzzled as I was. I knew to leave because if the house was falling apart, I wanted to be outside when it happened.
I have often run the drill though my mind, what would I grab from the house in an emergency, if I couldn't get back in for awhile. Now that the day came, I knew what I wanted as I ran out: I scooped up my laptop, cellphone and my purse and ran down the stairs. My blackberry was another few steps away, but I decided it wasn't worth it to spend the seconds it would take to gather it up if calamity was about to strike.
I was midway down the stairs when I heard glass crashing from above. I didn't go back up to check.
Once outside, I locked my stuff in my car and then checked the exterior of the house; I did not see anything amiss. A neighbor told me her house was shaking, too--and she was in the shower when it was happening. At least I was dressed.
A neighbor or a passerby said it was an earthquake. I waited a bit to see if there would be an aftershock. There was no obvious visual damage I could see either in the street or on the outside of my house.
I went back in to grab some clothes and chargers to put in the car, just to be safe.
That glass noise? A bathroom clock on a shelf fell, and shards of glass were all over the floor. Stuff on top of bookshelves had toppled. Hanging pictures were tilted.
When I was an undergraduate, I lived for awhile in Berkeley, Calif., where a faultline ran practically under my street. I read pamphlets on earthquake preparedness and from time to time would indeed feel tremors, mainly when I was sitting on my roommates' water bed. (remember those?)
This earthquake topped the minor stuff I experienced in California.
I need to sweep up the bathroom. I took stuff off the walls and from the tops of shelves.
And I think I'll leave a bag with some clothes in my car tonight.
Just in case.