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In your words: The day of the quake

Posted: January 17, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 17, 2014 2:00 a.m.
A resident sits in the rubble of what was a wall in front of his house after the quake hit the area in 1994. A resident sits in the rubble of what was a wall in front of his house after the quake hit the area in 1994.
A resident sits in the rubble of what was a wall in front of his house after the quake hit the area in 1994.

Editor’s note: We asked our newspaper, website and Facebook readers to tell us about their experiences in the Jan. 17, 1994, Northridge earthquake. Here’s what they said.

Double anniversary

I was living in Chatsworth with my fiancé while my family was in the SCV. My fiancé had left for work a half hour before the earthquake hit.

(When the quake hit), I truly thought there was an exorcist in my room.

I tried getting out of bed and kept getting thrownback in. Then when it stopped I got up to run out of my room when I ran into all the open closet doors. 

After that I went to walk into my kitchen to try to find a light when suddenly I realized my kitchen floor had been raised a foot from everything being thrown out of my cabinets onto the floor.

I was so frightened and only 24. Not thinking, I found a lighter and lit it for light. Thank God our apartment was nearly all electric!

Nonetheless, our place was red-tagged and we had to move, but not before our place was ransacked. Unbelievable! 

Oh, did I mention we were planning a huge wedding to take place on March 5, 1994? Sigh. ... We did it, though! We, too, are coming up on our 20-year anniversary.

— Dara Pinto McHenry

Safe and alive

I was in Santa Clarita with my husband. Being with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, he was called out immediately, as many of his friends and co-workers were.

As I looked around I saw collapsed buildings, buckled streets, crying children and homes on fire across the street.
It was then, before the men left for work, that I was placed in charge of all the wives, taking extra time with the pregnant ones.

After three weeks we were able to get back to my family in Chatsworth via Ventura County.

This was the first time I had spoken to them and known of their safety since the earthquake. They were fine, but their homes weren’t.

Weeks of labor, fending off unscrupulous “contractors,” staying vigilant until homes were secure — just a drop in the bucket of the aftermath.

But my family was safe and alive, and for that I am thankful.

— Denise Thurmond-White

Neighborhood get-together

On Jan. 17, 1994, I was only 5 years old living in Saugus. My older sister, who was 9, had a friend spend the night, and we had built a fort in the downstairs living room area.

When the earthquake hit we were sleeping inside of it. My parents had forgotten and couldn’t find us and panicked until they remembered where we were.

When the earthquake stopped we were placed in the minivan and slept there until everyone came out a few hours later on our street. We ended up having a small get-together with all the neighbors and their kids and learned one of my friends slept through the whole thing.

The following days we spent at my grandmother’s sleeping in the motor home at night in Van Nuys.

The night all the electricity came on we all were sleeping in the living room back at our house, and all at once the house lit up like the Griswold house in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”

— Samantha Pidkowicz

Paper, pencils, flashlights

Carl Boyer was a Santa Clarita City Councilman when the earthquake hit. The following excerpts were adapted by Boyer from his book “Santa Clarita” and reprinted by permission:

First, I drove to the city yard. I saw a van full of engineers leaving to check the bridges. Thirty minutes after the earthquake I was at City Hall, arriving right behind Assistant City Manager Ken Pulskamp, Disaster Coordinator Adele Mcpherson and two others.

Our emergency operations center was the council chambers and supplies were in a small room to the rear. There did not seem to be a whole lot more than pads of paper, pencils, flashlights and mobile phones in that room.

The mobile phones would not work because too many people were making calls, but the land lines did.

Communications problems

(Still at City Hall) Our building was not safe. Tents were going up in the parking lot, with phones and radios plugged into emergency power.

Our PIO was trying to contact the L.A. radio stations, with no luck. Other council members were showing up. ...

We knew communications were going to be a big problem. We could not get through to the media in Los Angeles, and they were swamped with the needs of the 85 cities in the southern 40 percent of the county area. Our local radio station was off the air.

Within minutes we had a lot of city staff on hand, with more coming in. (City Manager) George Caravalho said to one younger man, “Go to AV Rentals and get us a generator.”

“What if they are not open?”

“Go to AV Rentals and get us a generator.”

There was going to be a lot of red tape cut. ...

By the end of the day the City Hall parking lot had become both City Hall and a Red Cross feeding center.

Big city/little cities

On Friday I was able to drive to Encino for a meeting with Henry Cisneros, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. While waiting for the meeting to start I saw my name on a place card at the front table, but then they were collected and put away.

Cisneros and L.A. Mayor Riordan gave a press conference.

I overheard two staffers talking. One asked, “Is Cisneros going to stay for the public hearing?”

“No, I think he is going to tour some sites with Mayor Riordan.”

“What about the other mayors?”

“Well, they’re just small mayors.”

Soon the front table was jammed with L.A. councilmen and staffers. I grabbed a seat at the far end and finally got ahold of the microphone, which someone was trying to pass by me.

I introduced myself as the only person present at the table who was representing the other 87 cities of the county, and two-thirds of the county’s population.

Finally, (Assistant Secretary Andrew) Cuomo cleared the room of a lot of the L.A. people, who were socializing and making a racket, and people from Santa Monica and Simi Valley got seats.

I drove home over Little Tujunga Canyon Road with an electronic transfer worth $782,000.


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