THE EARTHQUAKE IN ORANGE COUNTY : Hugs, Reassurance, Disaster Drills Greet Youngsters at School

Times Staff Writer

‘We had kids arriving at 11 this morning, because they were afraid to leave the house.’

--Principal Randi Trontz

In classroom after classroom at Glenknoll Elementary School on Thursday afternoon, Principal Randi Trontz watched as pupils dived under desks. Then she checked for proper position--knees tucked under the body, head safely under the desk, hands protecting the neck.

The schoolwide duck-and-cover drill was just one of several steps taken by teachers at the Yorba Linda school to sharpen disaster skills and to help reassure youngsters after the trauma of the morning temblor that shook Southern California. All over Orange County, talk in the classroom turned to earthquakes--and earthquake safety.

“A lot of the kids, especially in the elementary schools, needed to talk about what happened,” said Tim Harvey, disaster coordinator for the Brea-Olinda Unified School District and principal of Fanning Elementary School. Many needed “hugs and reassurance,” he said. “From what I’ve read, that’s to be expected.”


Among Safest in World

“We told the kids that school buildings are among the safest in the world,” said Dennis Evans, principal of Corona del Mar High School. “The bulk of the students were on the road and weren’t here yet. But most of the students seem to be taking it fine. Kids are more resilient than adults.”

Trontz noted that some pupils at her Yorba Linda school had been reluctant to leave home. “We had kids arriving at 11 this morning, because they were afraid to leave the house and their parents,” Trontz said. On the other hand, “it was really hard for some of the parents to let go of their kids.” Several districts noted a higher-than-average absentee rate.

All public schools in Orange County were reported open Thursday and will be open today. Minor damage, including small gas leaks and falling ceiling tiles, was reported by several school districts, but no structural damage was reported.

While most schools were not yet open when the quake struck at 7:42 a.m., about 40 students were already at Glenknoll in the school’s district-run child care center. No injuries were reported.

“Everybody knew what to do,” said 10-year-old Tonya Merritt, even though the children “were all squeezed together” under the desks. Michael Torres, 8, said he and his friends had just finished lining up a row of large wooden blocks, domino-style, when the quake hit and sent the the blocks crashing, adding to the confusion. When the shaking subsided, Michael said, many of the children began to giggle.

The mood was not quite so light in the Bell household in Yorba Linda, where 10-year-old Jamie was getting ready for school. She said she screamed during the quake until her mother pulled her under a door frame.”It was really scary,” she said,


Eight-year-old Jamie Murphy of Yorba Linda said she knew just what to do because of her disaster training in school--”Don’t panic, get under a table and duck your head,” she repeated.

Earthquake safety is part of the curriculum at Glenknoll and other schools in the Placentia Unified School District, where schoolwide earthquake drills are held four times a year. “We have emphasized earthquake safety for two or three years now,” said Donna Bylund, an administrative assistant for the district.

Disaster Plans

“All the schools have disaster plans and they’re aware of what to do,” said Ruth Fehr, assistant superintendent for the La Habra City School District. She said that Walnut School in La Habra had a small gas leak, and at Los Lomas School, children were told to eat lunch inside their classrooms because of a reported chemical spill in nearby Sante Fe Springs. Otherwise, she said, “we had a few things fall off the shelves, but that’s about it.”

While no youngsters were reported injured at county schools, a teacher at Franklin Elementary School in Westminster required two stitches in her scalp after the cover fell off an overhead light fixture and struck her. The injury was described by a district spokesman as minor and did not require hospitalization.

Contrary to some news reports broadcast Thursday, Cal State Fullerton will be open today. The school suffered no structural damage during the quake, although a power outage Thursday disrupted classes for about one hour, according to a school spokesman.