Earthquake Memories

As we all do what we can to aid the Haitians in recovery from their earthquake*, the Los Angeles Times reminds us that the 1994 Northridge Earthquake was 16 years ago today. Those of us in California (or who have lived in California) are familiar with earthquakes, as they are far too frequent out here. In my almost 50 years, I’ve been through three major Southern California earthquakes. Here are my memories:

  • 1971. In 1971, I was still living in the house on 80th Street in Playa Del Rey (of the folks reading this, probably only uisna remembers that house). My only memory of that quake, which occurred early in the morning on February 9, was that of my cat (probably Nelson) falling from my top bunk onto the window sill, and then onto my lap, and both of us looking quizically at each other.
  • 1987. When the Whittier Narrows quake hit, Mark Biggar, Larry Wall, and I were commuting to work at SDC, taking a route up the hills in Sherman Oaks because the 405 was bad. Suddenly, we noticed the cars around us bouncing, and realized there was an earthquake going on. When we got to work (by this time we were in the old 2400 building at 2400 Colorado in Santa Monica), we all had to wait outside while they inspected the building to make sure it was safe for us to go in.
  • 1994. When the Northridge Quake of 1994 hit, we were living in North Hills (nee Sepulveda). The quake woke us up, and shook loads of stuff out of closets and broke a bunch of stuff in the kitchen. I remember hunting around for shoes and flashlights to go inspect damage. We were lucky that day: our block walls remained standing (but you could shake them with your hands), and our only real damage was the water heater bouncing into the wall and returning to position. I remember our neighbor Charles going around the neighborhood turning off the gas… only to learn that the Gas Company didn’t want people doing that for then it meant loads of service calls to restore service. I remember my uncle Ron and cousin Jerry coming around the house (they lived in Northridge) to make sure we were safe. I also remember after a day or two coming into work in El Segundo, and having to fight to use the disaster time card code, because they had no damage in El Segundo (never mind that the mayor was telling us to be off the road — if it didn’t happen in the South Bay, it wasn’t important to the corporation). But our little 1957 wood-frame-on-foundation house held up pretty well.

    I remember other scenes of damage: the CSUN parking lot that collapse and turned into a perfect arch. The former CSUN dormatories, which remained vacant and empty and rotting for at least 8 years. The collapsed freeways: the portions of Route 118 near Woodley; I-10 near Fairfax; and the I-5/Route 14 transition, which always seems to fall down in earthquakes. The fires along Balboa Blvd. The numerous red-tagged office buildings (especially along Van Nuys Blvd and at the I-405/US 101 transition), which remained standing and rotting for years.

    I now live in a 1962 wood-frame-on-slab much much closer to the epicenter (I’m walking distance from the former Northridge Meadows Apts.), and I don’t think this house would weather a future earthquake better (although it’s been a few valley quakes). I’m still dealing with earthquake damage here: we have slabs of pool decking that are still settling, which I attribute to the earthquake, and we constantly get cracks in the plaster drywall.

People ask me how I can live through an earthquake. My usual flip response is that at least with an earthquake, you know where your stuff is. Perhaps because I am a Southern California native, they don’t phase me as much. Fires, especially house fires, bother me much more.

So what are your earthquake memories?

(*: This morning I’m writing my check to Doctors Without Borders, but there are many great aid organizations out there.)