Twenty years ago in Northridge

On January 17, 1974 Los Angeles was shaken awake by the Northridge earthquake (I heard someone on the radio excitedly referred to the “Earthridge Northquake” which devastated many homes not only in Northridge but in parts of LA that were miles from the epicenter. At my parents’ house near La Brea and Jefferson the brick chimney collapsed and fell into the driveway. Many homes were badly damaged while those on either side were untouched.

Loss of life was over sixty, and the fact that not more were killed was thanks largely to most LA homes being of wood frame construction, as opposed to Haiti or other places where most construction is stone or brick.

Compared to quakes in Japan, Haiti, New Zealand and other places now pretty much forgotten by most Americans, Northridge was not much, but to those of us who experienced it, and especially those who had never lived through a major quake before, it was an unforgettable experience.

Nitpick, it was 1994. Like the riots of a couple years earlier, it was something you can never forget. Not just the shake itself, but the traffic disruption, etc. of the aftermath.

Having lived in or around L.A. all my life, one gets accustomed to the earth moving under your feet (whether or not the sky is tumbling down); Jan 17 94 was the only earthquake that I can recall actually being in fear for my life. The quake only lasted 8-15 seconds but one L.A. resident who was interviewed by the news a few hours later said, “It’s still going!” It’s funny, when you wake up in the middle of a Northridge-sized quake you don’t think about the safety of your possessions or anything else, only about your immediate survival.

I was extremely lucky in the aftermath – suffered hardly any damage, and as insane as it sounds, the earthquake actually fixed every problem I was having in my life at the time, from issues at home to stupid corporate games at work (essentially, upper management had cancelled everyone’s overtime but expected us to finish the same amount of work w/o pay – in fact, my boss had given a speech on the prior Friday telling us it was “our fault” we were behind, we should “suck it up” and work harder, blah blah – but the quake forced the company to reinstate O.T. just to clean up the damage.)

The main VA hospital in Sepulveda was one of many that suffered severe damage. It was later torn down. It was used in films such as Altered States and Buckaroo Banzai.

Sadly never rebuilt despite repeated calls.

(Filming still occurs at the lesser buildings on the site. E.g., Grey’s Anatomy uses the biggest one for hospital exteriors and some interiors. Another building subbed as the American Embassy in Argo.)

We were, obviously, still in bed in our apartment in West Hollywood - corner of Crescent Heights and Fountain.

The odd thing: A few seconds before the earthquake hit, we both suddenly sat up like a shot, wide awake in bed, and staring at each other. I remember thinking, “Why are we awake at this hour?” and then - kaboom! Still don’t know what woke us - perhaps we heard something before we felt something? Is that even possible?

It was a hell of a ride, and loud as hell with things crashing in the apartment, the apartment building swaying and lots of sudden activity.

The apartment building was fairly new and built to code, so actual damage was fairly minor but residents lost lots of items - TV’s falling, glasses and artwork, lamps overturned, things falling from shelves and counter tops, etc.

The worst part was the aftershocks that seemed to go on forever. At some point, you are afraid to go to sleep, and everybody was jumpy. I think it was about two days later I looked down at the pool area - every single chaise lounge was filled. Not with fun folks getting sun and swimming, but fully clothed residents getting some sleep without fearing anything would collapse on their heads!

It was about a year later that we discovered some real damage! We were supposed to get new carpeting, and when they tore the old carpet out, the installers told us to get out of the apartment immediately! The cement floor (we were on the third floor) was cracked beyond belief - and if it hadn’t been for the wall to wall carpet, there was one section that would have easily broken to bits and sent us flying down to the apartment below. They had to re-do the entire floor.

It was not a fun time, but memorable.

Best quote was the LA Times story on the quake. A bride had spent her wedding night in a hotel in Warner Center (near the epicenter) here is her statement

That guy married a keeper.

It felt strong all the way here in Santa Barbara. No real damage but the power was out for the entire day. Obviously the utilities were giving priority to the places that were damaged.

One interesting thing happened when I was watching coverage on tv. They were live with a reporter in LA when an aftershock hit. By the time it ended there, we finally felt it up here. There was like a seven second delay.

I lived about five miles away, in Arleta. I tried to get out of bed, but the room was jumping up and down so bad, it threw me to the ground. Book shelves and chest of drawers were tipped over, and the refrigerator was emptied out in the kitchen. I’ve been through many quakes, but that was by far the strongest.

My apartment was on Clarington at Palms (City of L.A., north of Culver City). The Northridge quake was the only one I ever bothered to get out of bed for. I thought it was a good idea when things started crashing down. Speaking of crashing down, the freeway fell down at La Cienega (I think it was), a couple of exits east of me.

I wanted to watch the water slosh around in the pool, but the neighbours thought I was bringing my Coleman lantern out so that they could have light. They started talking about shutting off the gas. There wasn’t a gas leak, else it would have been silly to fire up the lantern. But they wanted to do it to ‘be safe’. I went back to my apartment to take a hot shower before they did. Fortunately for everyone, they were convinced that shutting the gas off would be a bad idea because we would not have been able to turn it back on.

I rode out to Santa Monica to see my g/f. (Good thing she didn’t live east!) It was like riding in Lancaster, where I lived before I moved to L.A. Completely dark.

That was the 1971 San Fernando earthquake. My mom got me out of bed and made me stand in the bedroom doorway during that one.

The night before the earthquake I was coming home after seeing a movie at a theater
on Fairfax Blvd. My route home took me under the Santa Monica Freeway. About
six hours later the bridge that I had passed under partly collapsed. Things shook
strongly at my condo in Long Beach but nothing fell over or was damaged. I was
up in Van Nuys on business three days after the earthquake and found our client
and his neighbors putting plywood over broken windows and cleaning up things that had
fallen over. Afterward, I drove up into Northridge and saw much damage including
what was left of the Kaiser Permanente Building. It was very impressive and a bit

Nope, different VA complex, different earthquake. (For one thing, the movies I mentioned made at Sepulveda were done well past 1971.)

The lesson learned, unfortunately, from earthquakes in California is that the two of the things hardest hit are freeways and hospitals. So you have a harder time reaching injured people and the number of places you can take them is reduced.

You think Northridge was bad…remember the 2011 Virginia earthquake?

I lived in Northridge when the quake hit. I had just driven in from a trip out of state and had just driven over the overpass that would later collapse during the quake. Got to bed and was dead tired. When the quake hit I was shaken out of bed and thought my brother was throwing me out of bed for some reason. House was trashed and I couldn’t find my glasses that were buried under everything. I drove to my parents house half blind.

The wave trajectory was very odd. I lived in a large apartment complex. Mine was OK (lots of internal damage - cupboards came down and many things broken) but the building was fine. The next building over was declared structurally unsound and was torn down.

My grandmother lived up the street. Her house was fine, but she was the only one in her complex to have running water.

My parents’ house was almost unscathed, their neighbor’s house slid off its foundation. But no one hurt.

We were fine. We’re on the other side of LA and though it woke me up, I just went back to sleep. No damage but I’m glad I wasn’t closer to the epicenter

I was in Pasadena. It is funny but I cannot for the life of me remember actually feeling the Northridge quake, or what, if anything, happened in my apartment, although I distinctly remember being in the Big Bear and Landers quakes that happened in 1992, just three hours apart, and a lot of stuff falling down in the apartment. Perhaps I just slept through Northridge, or was shaken awake but was too groggy to recall much. I do not think much in our immediate area was damaged, though people must have felt the shake.

I do remember the aftermath of it, however. My cousin, who was a journalist working for a construction industry newspaper at the time, came over from England and my wife and I took him on a tour of damaged areas so he could write a report. I remember the pancaked Kaiser building being quite spectacular, but what was odd (and not apparent from the TV reports of it) was the way that everything around it seemed to be scarcely damaged at all. All around it, shops were open and life was going on. A lot of the damage was like that, with individual buildings collapsed amidst many apparently undamaged ones. I remember we saw an apartment building fairly near the epicenter that had collapsed into its carport, and a car dealership with 3 or 4 stories of (I guess) offices above it in Santa Monica that was quite badly hit. In a way the most noticeable thing was how, in The Valley, the front yard wall in front of almost every house had collapsed, even though the houses themselves generally looked fine.

A lot of damage was non-obvious, however. My wife’s best friend continued to live in her apartment in Tarzana for a while after the quake, but it was determined to be structurally unsound due to cracking, and she had to move out (and I think the building was demolished) not very long after.

I lived in Pasadena at the time; I had just moved to California for graduate school the previous September, and this was the first earthquake I’d ever felt.

We were far enough away from the epicenter that we weren’t thrown out of bed (or anything close to it), but it certainly woke my roommate and me up. I had no basis for comparison, but my roomie had grown up in California; once the shaking stopped he looked at me and said, “That was huge.”

We quickly turned on the TV to get news reports, and I remember the same advance warning of aftershocks that hajario mentions. The channel we were watching had its studio in Burbank, which is in between Northridge and Pasadena; they’d report feeling an aftershock, and a few seconds later things would start shaking for us.

Actual disruption in Pasadena was minimal, though. Campus activities went on as normal the following day. The professor teaching one of my first-year classes walked into the room, smilingly said, “Welcome to Southern California,” and proceeded into the day’s material. I don’t believe there was any major damage suffered either on campus or at my home - just minor cosmetic stuff.

Since I lived within walking distance of school and didn’t have much cause to leave the area often, the ensuing traffic disruptions didn’t really impact me, either.

I remember being surprised (and a bit troubled) that the big screen at (what was then known as) Anaheim Stadium came down - just because of how far it is from Northridge to Anaheim. So far as I’m aware, nothing else anywhere near that far away from the epicenter suffered significant damage, and this thing collapsed into the grandstands - thankfully, the were empty at 4:30 in the morning.

Is it possible that it was less than a few seconds? Perhaps you were awakened by the P-wave (the WHAM at the start of a quake) which travels somewhat faster than the rolling S-wave. But you would have to be hundreds of miles from the epicenter for the difference in arrival times to be seconds long.