On Monday, January 17, 1994, I was awakened at around 4:30 in the morning when my bed began to shake violently. I heard glass shattering and lumber creaking. There was no doubt in my mind that it was an earthquake. I just wasn’t sure if it was “the big one” all Angelenos know will happen one day.
It is known as the Northridge Earthquake, even though the epicenter was in Reseda in the San Fernando Valley, about twenty miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles. The magnitude was 6.7, but it produced the largest ground movement of any earthquake in any urban area in North America. The earth shook for about 20 seconds. That may not seem long until you set a timer and imagine not knowing if those seconds will be your last, if your house will collapse and transform you into a flapjack.
There was no electricity, so we dodged glass from a broken jar and crept up the stairs to survey the damage and collect the flashlights. In the kitchen, cabinet doors had flung open and rows of spices had flown off the shelf and shattered on the floor. A fire extinguisher had toppled out of a cabinet and cracked a ceramic floor tile.
We ventured into the front yard to find the brick fireplace still standing. Some of our neighbors were also outside, milling around. We always keep a gas shut-off tool in a plastic bag near the valve in case of leaks. We turned the gas off to prevent explosions, and headed back inside. That’s when we realized the front door was open and our beloved Tigger-boo-the-wonder-cat was missing.
|Our brave Boo|
I walked up and down the street, calling his name with no response. As soon as the electricity was restored, I printed flyers and scoured the neighborhood to no avail. Approximately 36 hours after the quake, I walked out the front door and saw Tigger under the olive tree. Presented with an open door, he strolled into the house as if nothing was amiss. After that, everything seemed survivable.
The water was undrinkable for days. We used ice from the refrigerator, read by candlelight, ate food from the refrigerator until it spoiled and had to be tossed. Banks were closed, along with ATM machines. After the dust settled, I walked to the supermarket to find the windows shattered but cleanup in progress. Our area escaped major damage, but nearby Santa Monica sustained heavy losses.
Once communications were restored, we saw the extent of the damage: streets buckled, freeways collapsed, including a section of the 10 Freeway, shutting down a vital link to one of the most traveled thoroughfares in the United States. Thousands of people were injured. Fifty-seven people lost their lives, including 16 who died when a Northridge apartment building collapsed.
Experts predict that in the next 30 years there is a 97% probability that Southern California will experience an earthquake of greater magnitude than the 1994 quake. To the extent that preparedness is possible, I keep shoes and a jacket next to my bed, enough cash to buy necessities for a week or so, and bottled water. I probably should store more canned food, but that gas shut-off tool is still ready and waiting. And I will never ever again forget to close the front door unless doing so jeopardizes the safety of my kitties Scooter and Riley.
All of us live at the mercy of Mother Nature: extreme weather, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis. Do you worry? Do you prepare? Where were you when the earth quaked?