June 13, 2024
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June 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

This week we present part two of our FAQ column about earthquakes. We started talking about this last week, but we had to stop in the middle. But not because of an earthquake.

Um, is this something you should joke about? Don’t people die in earthquakes?

Those are not the kind of earthquakes we’re joking about. We’re joking about the kind where people are confused for a moment and then think it was something they did, like in the first few seconds of a blackout. It’s like how I make jokes all the time about tripping, but in reality, people can die from tripping. I could have some reader who will say, “My grandmother tripped while bungee jumping, and they hadn’t attached the rope to her yet.” But that’s not the kind of tripping we’re laughing about.

It happens that there are over 500,000 earthquakes a year, and only about 100 cause any damage at all. That’s 1 out of every 5,000 quakes, or a fiftieth of one percent. And that’s besides the millions of earthquakes every year that are too weak to be detected.

How do we know about those?


Why are there earthquakes?

I am not on a madreiga to say why Hashem makes major earthquakes, but minor earthquakes seem to exist mostly to give us something to talk about on the way home from shul on Friday night:

“Did you feel the earthquake?”

“The first or the second?”

“There was a second?”

“Yeah, at 6:00.”

“My house is always shaking at 6:00 on Fridays.”

It also gives the rav something to talk about if he’s stuck preparing his drasha.

It’s like they say—a minor earthquake on Friday is a bracha.

No, I mean scientifically why are there earthquakes?

That’s a good question. Everything I know about earthquakes I learned from my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Stein, who also taught me everything I know about penguins. We spent months talking about penguins, and how the father penguin hatches the eggs and carries the babies on his feet. (I think Mrs. Stein might have been having sholom bayis issues.) But then for one or two days, she pivoted to earthquakes. I don’t remember much of what she said because she mentioned something about plates underground, and I was wondering, “Why are there plates underground?” and by the time I zoned back in, I had missed most of what she said.

What should I do during an earthquake?

The first tip that everyone has heard of is that you should immediately get under a sturdy piece of furniture. So not anything that’s been made in the last 30 years.

How is my furniture going to be sturdier than my house?

Why is the entire plane not made out of the black box?

What qualifies as a sturdy piece of furniture?

You have to test it before you buy it. Jump on the couches at the store. If the staff tries to stop you, they clearly have something to hide. Alternatively, go to a furniture store right before an earthquake and see which furniture the staff ducks under. Or if they just run outside.

Isn’t the earthquake over by the time you get outside anyway?

There are still aftershocks to worry about.

Why are there aftershocks?

I was not listening to Mrs. Stein anymore by this point.

How long after an earthquake can there still be aftershocks?

Well, after a certain point it stops being called an aftershock and is just called another earthquake.

So what is the safest place to be in an earthquake?

The safest place would be the desert, or possibly the moon, under a sturdy piece of furniture, with safety instructions posted underneath.

What do I do if I have no sturdy furniture?

Try to get on really great terms with your bubby, so that you’re the first person she thinks of when she’s trying to get rid of something or if she trips while bungee jumping.

Alternatively, you can crouch near a wall, but not one that has windows.

What else do experts recommend?

Experts recommend that before you do so, you run around grabbing heavy dangerous items that you don’t want falling on the floor and putting them on the floor. Also, put all vases on the floor. Detach your chandelier and put it on the floor. Also, push all the seforim as far back as you can. And bolt all the seforim shranks and China cabinets to the walls.

I should do all of this during an earthquake?

No, you should do a lot of this beforehand, because you don’t want to be on a stepladder.

Is there a good way to remember what I should do?

In areas with a lot of earthquakes, they teach kids to do three things: Stop, Drop and Roll.

No, sorry, it’s Drop, Cover and Hold On. Same thing.

So I shouldn’t stop before I drop?

Not this time, no.

Well how come when I’m on fire I have to stop before I drop? Also what if I’m on fire during an earthquake?

Okay then you can stop, drop twice, roll for cover, and then hold on. Or you just get the message.

What does “Hold on” mean?

It means that even sturdy furniture can start vibrating across the floor, so you want to hang on to it, or at least move along with it.

I did not do any of this.

Yeah, well the problem is that you don’t know until afterward what size earthquake it was.

What else do they recommend?

Experts recommend preparing an emergency kit containing first-aid supplies, a flashlight, a phone charger and a radio that doesn’t have to be plugged in. For Yidden, they recommend a larger kit that includes spare tefillin, a Siddur with Tehillim, a gartel or tourniquet, a pacifier, grape juice and rolls, and a workable sheitel for your wife so she doesn’t have to walk around outside with a desk on her head.

Then, after the earthquake, turn on the radio and listen for warnings and instructions and people calling in to talk about their dogs and their experience crouching under furniture with those dogs. And for whether alternate-side-of-the-street parking has been suspended.

Mordechai Schmutter is a freelance writer and a humor columnist for Hamodia and other magazines. He has also published eight books and does stand-up comedy. You can contact him at [email protected].

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