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Senior Correspondent

The lady friend and I had been in a cold war over retrofitting the house. A January 9, 2010 earthquake up in Eureka brought matters to a boil.

Pointing to a picture in the San Francisco Chronicle of a distraught woman in front of  a house that collapsed off its foundation, she said, “That could be us. That could be our house. Then where would we be? Out in the street!”

The Eureka temblor, with a magnitude of 6.5, didn’t kill anyone but people were tossed around, some were hurt, and the fire chief figured damage at 12.5 million in this city of 26,000. The earthquake hit off shore about 23 miles and raised fears of a tsunami. Although no tsunami ever happened, many people headed for higher ground, according to the Chronicle.

The Eureka Times-Standard  put out a paper even though the staff had to work without electricity. Journalists who weren’t out in the field made do on a single laptop computer. The headlights from a car provided the light. The paper’s printer was down as well but a nearby firm came to the rescue with the know-how. In the end, the paper published an eight-page “emergency section” Sunday morning.

The Lady Friend’s response to the Eureka quake was one of alarm,  and a call to action. Mine was different. The news brought me back to a time when I was a young reporter on the Humboldt Times in Eureka. in early 1952. A New England native, I’d never been through an earthquake before. That day when it struck – about noon – my apartment rocked, the coffee pot in the kitchen sailed into the front room and crashed. A moment later I watched in disbelief  when the brick chimney on the house across the street crumbled.

As I remember, one person, a logger, died in that quake. He was sitting on the edge of a log pond eating lunch when the earthquake struck, knocking him into the water where he drowned.

I spent the day news-gathering. When I stepped into the office the publisher, Don O’Kane, was on the line with the New York Times. Handing me the phone, he said they asked to talk to a reporter who could give them the scoop. I told the Lady Friend, “This was a kick. A second kick was to see the story on page one, above the fold, in the newspaper of record, with some of what I told them in quotes.”

Of course I was evading the issue. The Lady Friend had heard the story before. Retrofitting is costly, very costly. But, she asked, can we afford not to do it and risk losing everything?

“That’s the Jack Benny question,” I said. “Your money or your life? In this case your money or your house?”

“Well?” said she.

“I’m thinking. I’m thinking.”

This article originally appeared in the San Leandro Times.

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