On the morning of January 17, 1994, we were asleep in our condo in Laguna Niguel, California. My daughter, who was only a little over six months old, was asleep in her crib.
I felt the shaking before. I lived in Reseda when the 1971 Sylmar quake hit. I was 9 and that was my first earthquake. After the shaking stopped, I went back to sleep. It wasn’t until I saw the damage on the news and heard that we might have to evacuate if the Van Norman Dam broke that I knew earthquakes were something to fear. I was in Orange County during the 1987 Whittier quake. After the shaking stopped, I finished getting dressed and went to work.
The 1994 quake was different.
As soon as the earth started shaking, I took my daughter out of her crib. Since we had nothing in the bedroom to get under, I held her under the door jamb. She stayed asleep in my arms until the shaking stopped. The quake was stronger than usual, so it felt like it was somewhere nearby. We turned on the news. The Valley had been hit.
It was hard to see the destruction in the neighborhoods where I grew up. The apartments on Reseda Boulevard that I used to pass on my way to CSUN. The Northridge Fashion Center where we used to shop. Apartments near Reseda High School where my brother’s friends used to live. When I started contacting people, the first question after “Are you OK?” was “Did your house get red-tagged?”
I went to the Valley to see some friends a few days after the quake. Many businesses were still closed. I was surprised to see that my favorite falafel place by CSUN was still open. They had a generator, so they were able to open even on the day of the quake. No doubt the people in the neighborhood were grateful to find someplace to eat.
I also passed by my old house on Amigo Avenue to see if it was OK. Fortunately, it was, but the quake had an effect. The new owners had put a wooden fence around the backyard. The fence had waves in it from the movement of the ground.
There was no damage in Orange County, except for the scoreboard that fell over at Anaheim Stadium. I was upset to see Anaheim ask for FEMA funds to fix it. (They wound up removing the scoreboard and upper bleachers anyway when they remodeled the ballpark three years later.)
As a native Californian, I accept earthquakes as a part of living here, just as people in the Midwest are used to tornadoes and people in the South are used to hurricanes. We take precautions, store backup supplies, and wait. We don’t ask when the “Big One” is coming, because it will get here eventually. We certainly know that such an earthquake won’t dump California into the Pacific, no matter how many people would like to see that happen.
We know the swaying and creaking of buildings, the crash of unsecured items from shelves. We then wait for the ground to stop, knowing that it will only be a minute or two. We shut off the gas and water, turn on the radio or TV, ride out the aftershocks, and wait for the opportunity to rebuild.