December 22, 2003 at 11:15 am…Our lives changed forever when a magnitude 6.5 earthquake visited such violence upon our home that it took two years to rebuild. And still, we were the lucky ones. My heart goes out to the families of the women who were killed downtown, and hope that the people who were injured have recovered.
My husband worked in downtown Paso Robles, right across the street from the worst damage. Like the historic buildings that collapsed, the building that house his office was made of brick. A fire occurred in the building a few years earlier, and I will be forever grateful to the owner for reinforcing all the masonry at the time he repaired the fire damage. Even with the reinforcement, the building wasn’t safe to enter for quite some time. Who knows whether Steve would still be here if the repairs hadn’t been made.
These photos are ones my husband took at of the clock tower in Paso Robles some months before the earthquake, and then after:
You can see in people’s body language and expressions just how disorienting and frightening it was.
The oddest things freaked me out about this. For one thing, what happened to all the tree branches? For another, see the chair in the rubble to the right of Pan Jewelers? This was the local bread bakery. We, along with so many others, kept saying to each other, “But we used to sit right there,” wide-eyed with the capricious nature of close calls.
At the time of the earthquake, I was a Red Cross disaster volunteer. I shoveled my house into a dumpster by day and manned the Red Cross truck downtown by night. It was very cold, and there were a lot of young sheriff and police guys guarding the downtown. The coolest thing I have ever seen happened about 3:00 in the morning one of those nights. Someone – I believe it was the wonderful owner of Pan Jewelers – brought a Christmas tree, all decorated, and propped it up outside the store. Here, his business had been wrecked and yet he did this incredible thing so the guys who couldn’t be with their families could enjoy a little Christmas. Amazing.
As for our house…. Well, it’s never good when FEMA stops by and declares that yours is the damage that qualifies the disaster for National Emergency status.
I will forever be grateful to our friends who got us through the damage and the trauma. Our wonderful neighbors took us and our four cats in for a month until we could find a house to rent. The rental house was a single story, unlike our wrecked house. So I thought it would be a good time to get some foot surgery done that I had been putting off. That led to learning to knit so I’d have something to do during the weeks of recuperation.
And the rest is history.