Monday, January 17, I woke to find that a major earthquake jolted southern California. While watching television, CNN, ABC, CBS, and NBC, the announcers explained. "At 4:31 A.M. PST January 17, 1994, the San Fernando Valley was hit by a huge earthquake." Memories of the San Francisco earthquake haunted my thoughts. I was watching the aerial view of Los Angeles, and saw scenes of the fires burning out of control. Interstate 14 near Reseda, California had buckled. People jumped from windows at a large three story apartment complex that is now two stories.
Later this month, Disaster Recovery Journal is planning a personal inspection of the Los Angeles and surrounding areas affected by the earthquake. We will be providing more in depth reporting on the Earthquake of '94 in the second quarter edition of Disaster Recovery Journal. During this personal tour of the area I will be visiting future sights to host the Disaster Recovery Journal's conferences. This year's conference in Palm Springs is sure to have an outstanding turnout. Some 428 attendees have already registered.
Quake Of '94
The Quake of '94 rocked the San Fernando Valley and the surrounding area, leaving at least 47 people dead and billions of dollars in property damage. The earthquake was centered in the Northridge area of the San Fernando Valley, about 20 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. The quake measured 6.6 on the Richter Scale, powerful enough to be felt from San Diego, 125 miles to the south, to Las Vegas, 275 miles to the northeast.
The quake was felt for 30 seconds, and several aftershocks followed within minutes, several as strong as a magnitude of 5.0 on the Richter Scale. The quake occurred on a previously unknown fault line 20 miles south of the San Andreas Fault.
The earthquake damaged up to 1,000 buildings and knocked out power and water service for thousands of residents.
The most devastation and fatalities occurred at the Northridge Meadows Apartment Complex which housed many students of nearby California State University. The three story stucco complex was cracked in half and the top two floors collapsed onto the bottom floor. City officials claim the 14 deaths in the apartment complex was the largest number of earthquake fatalities at a single site in the city's history.
Seven interstates and three state highways were closed at several points after the quake, threatening to snarl traffic for millions of drivers for months to come. Among the worst hit highways was Interstate 5, the state's major north-south route.
Traffic lights were knocked out in the valley as well as in downtown Los Angeles. By Monday evening, at least 680,000 customers were without power in Los Angeles County, and 200,000 were without water. City officials urged residents to boil drinking water contaminated by broken mains. Telephone service was sporadic as long-distance phone companies routed calls from the region to prevent communication gridlock.
At least 100 fires were reported, many fed by ruptured gas and oil mains. In Sylmar, a community north of Los Angeles, at least 70 homes burned.
While fire damage is covered under most homeowner policies, up to 75 percent do not have earthquake insurance.
President Bill Clinton declared southern California a disaster area, making residents eligible for federal assistance. Low-income residents can qualify for up to $12,200 in disaster grants. Others would be eligible for low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration for temporary housing, rent assistance and disaster crisis counseling.
The President dispatched James Lee Witt, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to California.
Governor Pete Wilson of California and Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan also declared emergencies. Wilson mobilized more than 1,500 National Guard Troops to help and promised to rush more aid to the area. Riordan instituted a dusk-to-dawn curfew in Los Angeles "to protect life and property."
Many residents, unsettled by numerous aftershocks, huddled in parking lots, on sidewalks, in area parks or in shelters set up by the American Red Cross.
The Red Cross issued an emergency appeal for blood donors, saying its blood supply had been seriously depleted even before the quake struck.
Area hospitals were inundated with injured residents.
"We've seen heart attacks, dislocated bones, and lacerations," said an emergency room admissions officer at Holy Cross Medical Center in Sylmar. In Los Angeles, Cedars Sinai Medical Center said the emergency room had received many earthquake victims.
At the Granada Hills Community Hospital, a makeshift emergency room was set up in the parking lot. Nurses treated more than 1,000 patients there on Monday.
The quake derailed a 64-car freight train, which leaked sulfuric acid from one of its tankers, between the communities of Chatsworth and Northridge. Hazardous materials crews were cleaning up the spill.
A department store at the Northridge Fashion Center collapsed. Windows were shattered throughout the center and the parking structure turned into a 20-foot high pancake. Searchers spent hours digging through the wreckage of the parking garage before pulling out a street sweeper alive.
FEMA sent 12 search-and-rescue teams and four medical teams to the quake area. The 56 member search teams use dogs, sensitive listening devices and tunneling equipment to look for survivors in collapsed buildings.
Eight hours after the quake, rescue workers held little hope that those missing in the rubble of the Northridge Apartment Complex would be found alive.
Long lines formed outside hardware stores as residents tried to buy propane or get plywood to repair damaged homes. Without power, many gasoline stations remained closed, and bank teller machines were not working.
California residents also lined up to buy batteries, flashlights and bottled water from area stores, many of which were littered with debris from the earthquake.
Many residents struggled with the quakes' psychological toll.
"I never felt that close to death before," said Encino resident Jason Mernick.
But, geologists warn, this quake was not "the big one" Los Angeles residents have been told to expect.
Businesses throughout the Los Angeles and surrounding areas also suffered due to the earthquake.
As of this writing, SunGard has reported 21 alerts. Most alerts were for power outages, very few were reports of structural damages. SunGard anticipates at least five actual disaster declarations.
IBM reported that of the 100 Business Recovery Service customers in the Los Angeles area, only nine customers actually declared. These customers have a total of 15 declarations on a variety of platforms, at multiple recovery centers.
To date, Comdisco has not yet reported back to us.
In Northridge, at least 14 people were crushed to death in a collapse of an apartment building. A 64-car freight train derailed. Bullocks department store at Fashion Center collapsed into a pile of concrete and steel.
Two people in Sherman Oaks died when a home slid down a hillside and collapsed. Many of the worst fires occurred in this area.
In Sylmar more than 70 homes burned, and a power substation was badly damaged. Two people died from quake-related heart attacks at Holy Cross Medical Center. Sylmar Hospital was deluged with more than 250 patients.
One of the nations busiest highways, Interstate 10, was closed five miles west of downtown Los Angeles.
The Santa Monica Freeway was scheduled to receive upgrades to comply with earthquake proof standards next month.
In Fairfax and LaCienaga, cars were trapped as sections of connecting ramps fell on the nations busiest highway.
On Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills shopping district, broken glass and debris filled the streets.
Gas leaks caused many explosions and fires. The earthquake reduced many homes to rubble.
A motorcycle police officer dies after a 25-foot fall from a collapsed section of Highway 14. Four spans of Highway 14 fell to southbound I-5 and two spans of Highway 14 fell to northbound I-5.
Richard L. Arnold, CDRP, is Editor-in-Chief of the Disaster Recovery Journal. He would like to thank Janette Ballman, Mike Beckerle and Laura Grisham, for their work on this Special Report.