I was flopped on my bed, lazing around with the TV on after a long workday, waiting for the evening meal. October is when Monterey gets its brief glimpse at summer, so I'd doffed my uniform and was in my skivvies. I wasn't watching the World Series; a rerun of The Facts of Life had just started, and I was on the verge of grabbing the remote when things started shaking.
- Hm. Quake.
- Huh. It's still going.
- Holy Shit! It's the Big One!
Somewhere around 2.5, the reflexes of someone born in California and raised with earthquake drills through childhood kicked in, and I was under the table. The table, it should be noted, was Military Barracks Furniture, and probably sturdier than most houses: the legs were 4x4s. If the floor had dropped out from under me, I'd have been in some trouble, but if the ceiling had gone, I was, quite literally, covered.
When the shaking stopped, the power was out. I threw on some clothes -- I can't remember if it was my uniform or my civvies -- and ran downstairs to see if I was needed anywhere on base. I wasn't, so I jogged down Cannery Row at a good clip to assess the damages, particularly at the Aquarium; those big glass tanks were a particular concern, and I figured someone from an emergency service should look in on them.
The Aquarium was fine, as it turned out, and the docents were evacuating the tourists very professionally; power was out all up and down the row, and, in fact, in most of the town.
On the way back, I checked out the Marina, right by the pier; again, no serious damage, but the currents on the harbor were visibly off, twisting and turning and flowing the wrong way.**
Eventually, we heard from our engineers. Several of them had driven up to Alameda on a parts run. Before getting on the freeway, they'd stopped at a convenience store to get drinks for the long drive home -- and that's where they were when the quake hit. They stepped outside to see the section of Interstate 880 that they were about to take... collapsed into a sandwich.
The electricity was out for the next few days in Monterey; as a result, our commander shrugged and declared liberty for everyone but the watch crews, since the rest of us couldn't do much of anything without power tools. We had a generator to keep the Operations Center running, and it had enough juice to spare for the mess hall, as well.
I felt kind of bad, really: most of the coast was in chaos, and I got a long weekend and never even missed a hot meal. Even the duty days were surprisingly light; not many people go pleasure boating after a major catastrophe, and even the professional fishing fleet was taking a few days of downtime.
The aftershocks kept coming, though, for a couple of weeks, and we'd all get hyperalert when they did -- or when a truck rolled by. In fact, I was exceptionally vibration-sensitive for several more years, well after returning to civilian life and moving to Oceanside, in San Diego County -- just long enough to get jolted awake by the barely-perceptible fringes of the Landers quake in 1992.
*A decade later, taking Geography/Hydrology at CSUMB, I realized just what kind of underwater avalanches the quake must have triggered in the Monterey Underwater Canyon.