Last October’s Temblor Shook Residents Out of ‘Ostrich Syndrome’ : More Prepare for Next Orange County Quake

Times Staff Writer

The 5.9 temblor of last Oct. 1 appears to have shaken Orange County residents out of “the ostrich syndrome,” said Peter Lawrence, senior emergency management program coordinator at the Orange County Fire Department.

“There has been a greater inclination on their behalf to prepare (for a major earthquake), at least to do the basics, strap down their water heater and get some supplies within the house,” he said.

In 15 seconds of violent shaking last fall, that early morning quake resulted in the deaths of three people and caused $368 million in damage in 55 cities in Orange and Los Angeles counties. In Orange County, one woman died of a heart attack believed related to the quake, and 11 communities reported more than $8 million in damages.

Since then during his department’s frequent public presentations on earthquake preparedness, Lawrence said, “people are coming up to us and saying, ‘Yes, I’ve done that,’ whereas in the past it tended to be, ‘I’ve survived a lot of earthquakes before and I’ll survive them again.’


Some Won’t Change

“But there are still the die-hards out there,” he added. “The ones who have lived here all their lives and say they aren’t going to do anything differently.”

And since last October, Lawrence said the county itself is becoming better prepared for a major earthquake, as evidenced by the Board of Supervisors’ recent funding of a four-year project to purchase emergency supplies, such as blankets and food rations, for all county employees.

“We’ll get the first kits this month,” he said. “They will go to the emergency employees first. If we have a major earthquake, they are not going to be able to go home. The remaining kits then will go to non-emergency personnel.”


The Orange County area hardest hit by last year’s quake was La Habra, where the city’s senior building inspector, Michael Lee, said $5.6 million in damage was reported.

Still Negotiating

“The major damage has been taken care of,” Lee said on the eve of the anniversary of the quake. “But there are still things, like fireplaces, that people are still negotiating about with insurance companies.”

Lee said La Habra’s most severely damaged house, which sustained an estimated $200,000 in damage, has been completely rebuilt and is now inhabited. The owner of the structure at the time of the quake has sold it, he said.

In Fullerton, however, the First Church of Religious Science, built in the late 1900s, is still not being used for services a year after quake damage made it unsafe to occupy. The congregation is using the Temple Beth Tikvah, also in Fullerton, until its church is repaired.

Maria Marquez, a mental health specialist with the Orange County Health Care Agency, said it appears that most county residents who suffered psychological trauma in the wake of the earthquake have not experienced long-term effects from the disaster.

274 Were Seen

“There were people who were temporarily overwhelmed,” Marquez said of the 274 county residents she and others saw as members of the federally funded disaster response team assigned to the La Habra Community Center.


“A lot of people, ones who had a lot of property damages, were having trouble with their children,” she said. “They were having nightmares (and) becoming more dependent.”

But Marquez said that since the special psychological counseling program ended on Dec. 1, (funded by a grant of $36,000) the county has treated very few people suffering from earthquake-related trauma.

“Most people will recover from something like that in six to eight weeks,” she said. “That doesn’t mean that there isn’t ongoing trauma--some people could be seeing private counselors. . . .”