COLUMN ONE : The Long and Uneasy Night After : Demons, real and imagined, haunt residents in the wake of Monday’s quake. ‘The day is more easy,’ one newly homeless woman said. To many, darkness meant anxiety, anguish and aftershocks.
And then night fell.
The screaming sirens and staccato din of television helicopters had all but disappeared. Burned-out cars and buckled freeways lay silent. Homes lay in ruins. All that initial upheaval had subsided, leaving the city to bed down under curfew, on edge, alone in the dark.
After a day of catastrophe, many in Los Angeles worked their own twist on the words of the poet Dylan Thomas: They did not go gently.
Rather, they entered a night of uncommon trepidation. They found themselves confronting demons both real and imagined. In the long hours before dawn, weary residents tried to find rest, sometimes amid homelessness and despair. All the while, they wondered if the darkness--which had delivered Monday’s temblor--would strike again.
“The day is more easy,” said Zoila Zuleta, who along with her three children curled up on flattened cardboard boxes in the parking lot of a Lucky supermarket in Sepulveda. “The night. . . ,” her voice drifted off. “The night is awful.”
Some left homeless huddled under blankets in store parking lots. Others slept in their own homes, but with one eye open, removing the mirror from above the dresser, wrapping the favorite vase in towels, putting the running shoes by the bed--just in case. In Woodland Hills, shaken residents fought fears of the night in grand style: They threw a block party.
Thousands camped out in parks, unwilling or unable to go home. Far-flung commuters got up in the wee hours--3 a.m. in the case of one Antelope Valley man--to beat a freeway rush that was expected to be hellish but wasn’t. Motels in Lancaster filled up, with Santa Clarita Valley residents hungry for electricity and hot showers.
Aftershocks rocked the region, making for restless slumber. Would the next one be the magnitude 5 that seismologists were predicting? Or would it be bigger? Would the terror grow only worse?
The military arrived, in the form of the National Guard, rumbling through Reseda in convoys of camouflage. People went to work--as police officers, highway workers and hostesses in all-night diners.
And the rest? They just tried to make it until morning.
Antonio De La Cerda, paralyzed from the waist down and blind in his left eye, was not worried about himself. It was his sister, Adelaide, who kept him up all night. She is terrified of earthquakes. And so with every tremor, her 63-year-old brother--catnapping in his clothes--hoisted his 168-pound frame out of bed and into his red wheelchair to check on her.
Each aftershock was like a mini-athletic contest for the Glendale man. With each, he improved his time. “Usually, it takes me a minute to get out of bed into the wheelchair,” De La Cerda said. “But with the tremors, I had it down to 30 seconds.”
Others spent restless nights in makeshift encampments that sprung up throughout the San Fernando Valley, Downtown, Hollywood and wherever people were too afraid to go back inside.
In Sepulveda, a few miles east of the quake’s epicenter, frightened families were drawn to the supermarket lights, unwilling to retreat into the shadows. With the red Lucky sign casting an eerie glow in the parking lot, a couple and their children huddled beneath a tent of bedsheets stretched between two cars.
At midnight, tiny fires in barbecue pits dotted Van Nuys’ Woodley Avenue Park, glowing red and orange against an onyx sky. With temperatures dipping, children shivered in coats and blankets.
Outside the huge Sears building in Hollywood, newlyweds Fantasia Owens and Gerald Jackson sat somberly in their Honda Civic, Fantasia clutching a large teddy bear. It was silly, she admitted, before anyone even asked, but the thing made her feel better.
“Right now, I kind of need one,” she said.
Not far away, Anaiet Rezyan and her husband set up camp in their front yard, abandoning a two-story house filled with broken glass and badly cracked walls. A few neighbors had joined them, sleeping on mattresses laid out on the grass. Though scared, Rezyan clung to guarded optimism that no larger temblors were on the way.
“Life,” she said, in English both broken and poetic, “will be continued.”
Save for the huddled masses, the city’s streets and open spaces were all but deserted. Here and there, in the glow of artificial light, human activity appeared in startling bursts. Highway workers toiled beneath the damaged span of the Santa Monica Freeway, bolstering it as best they could for fear it might fall in an aftershock.
At the Summit apartments in Warner Center, an impromptu block party broke out in the glow of a lamp carted outside. Elizabeth Reed, 33, who had lost $1,000 worth of crystal to breakage, found herself dancing, grateful for the safety of her 4-year-old daughter.
The party, however, folded as quickly as it began.
Across the city, neighborhoods became neon-lighted ghost towns. The Los Angeles Police Department reported 73 arrests--many of them for misdemeanor curfew violations--far below the usual night’s log. Fabled thoroughfares--Melrose Avenue, Sunset and Hollywood boulevards--stood eerily vacant except for an occasional passing car.
In the San Fernando Valley, long stretches of road were nearly black, illuminated only by tiny pink blazes of police flares. On La Cienega Boulevard, where the Santa Monica Freeway collapsed, there was a new sound: quiet. Residents who for years drifted off to the hum of passing cars found the silence unnerving.
Police accounted for much of the night’s traffic. On the Hollywood Walk of Fame, four squad cars descended on three young men, who were handcuffed and whisked away for flouting the curfew. Yet in Van Nuys, patrons waltzed in and out of the only open spot for blocks around--Perfect Donuts--while four LAPD officers sat in the corner, sipping coffee.
“We don’t have to enforce it,” one officer said, asked about the curfew. “You pretty much use your own discretion.
Back in Hollywood, two off-duty officers found entertainment. They were guarding an aging, 40-unit building that had been evacuated and condemned. Yellow police tape and barricades outside blocked a sidewalk strewn with bricks. Inside, the officers had discovered a baseball bat and a plastic ball.
It seemed like a good night for a double-header--or more.
“We’re here till 6 in the morning,” said Officer Don Ashley, 32, who then ripped a pitch against the far wall and shouted, “That was a home run!”
Shortly after midnight, a convoy of six military trucks--all loaded with National Guards troops--rumbled down a freeway off-ramp in Reseda, escorted by police.
The trucks stopped at a deserted gas station, where four soldiers hopped out. They would reveal little about themselves--no names or ages--without the approval of their lieutenant. It soon became clear that these camouflage-clad soldiers were not quite certain what to do.
They murmured among themselves, donning flak jackets and riot helmets. One propped his rifle against a bus bench, only to watch it slip to the ground. “We’re supposed to be a visual distraction,” said one, puffing up his chest. “So as long as we’re visible, we can stop the looting, stop the violent presence. We’re the show of force.”
However, there was little violent presence on the streets. In fact, the only people out for miles around were the Guard troops.
One said: “We’re kind of in the twilight zone right now.”
A lot of people felt that way. Writer Marianne Hooper, 32, who lives near the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, spent the afternoon loading the car with emergency supplies in case she, her husband and their two terriers had to evacuate.
As darkness closed in, with all its accompanying fears, Hooper took a Valium. That was at 7. At midnight, maybe 1 in the morning, she was still awake, just thinking.
“I had a sense of foreboding death,” she said. “There were so many after-quakes. I thought maybe I was going to die. . . .”
Serrina Sims, 19, wasn’t even trying to sleep. The young nightclub hostess, who lives just off glitzy Melrose Avenue, was sitting down for a midnight dinner at Canter’s, “too scared to be in my own home.”
She and three friends were planning to eat, then go over to one of their homes to watch rented movies--"Rebel Without a Cause,” “The Big Easy” and “The Grifters.”
Friends and families yielded to a seemingly primal urge to gather together. Dan Woods’ home in Santa Monica was damaged--a fallen chimney, some cracked walls, a porch ripped away from the door.
So he, his wife, their three children and six guests from Australia descended on the home of a friend and slept on the floor.
Sleep came in fits and starts.
“Oh, I got a few hours here and there,” Woods reported later.
Los Feliz attorney Bill Moore picked up a roast in a jampacked supermarket and, along with his wife, served dinner for a friend whose Woodland Hills home was without electricity or a phone.
“We ate the roast, had some milk and cookies,” Moore said, “and tried to think non-seismic thoughts.”
But, of course, few found it possible to put quakes out of mind. The Pena household in Lincoln Heights was a model of preparedness. Vases were secured to cabinets with duct tape. Fresh batteries were popped into hand-held televisions. The gas was turned off. Tennis shoes were set by the beds.
Everyone was issued a flashlight--patriarch Pepe Pena, his wife, Rosie, their two sons and daughter-in-law. And everyone--including 5-month-old grandson Alex--went to sleep dressed in a jogging suit.
“This is not the real Big One,” Pena explained, “which is why we have to be prepared.”
The reminders of the risks were not difficult to find. Against the darkness of the beleaguered city, one address was bathed in light: 9565 Reseda Blvd., the site of the crumpled Northridge Meadows apartment complex, where rescue crews spent the night in a desperate search for victims.
It was a surreal scene, with huge searchlights illuminating the sky, residents standing around in blankets and a Japanese journalist beaming shots back to Tokyo. Weary photographers, unshaved and unkempt, poised their lenses, readying themselves for the next development.
At precisely 1:27 a.m., it came. A rescue worker wheeled out a gurney carrying Victim No. 15. The body was wrapped in a white sheet. As the worker wheeled the gurney toward a dark blue coroner’s van, the photographers clicked furiously, hustling for that perfect angle. One tripped over a police line, bringing a barricade crashing to the ground.
A coroner’s deputy, clad in a royal blue jumpsuit, opened the back doors of the van. The gurney was tipped up, the body deftly slid inside. The entire episode took less than two minutes. But it was more than enough to unsettle Pat Gould, one of the neighbors keeping vigil.
“It’s not a good night for sleeping around here,” she said.
Times staff writer Michael Quintanilla contributed to this story.