EARHQUAKE / The Long Road Back : Loss in Santa Clarita Exceeds $80 Million : Recovery: The estimate includes private, public property. Residents have trouble finding food, water.
Shake-shocked and thirsty Santa Clarita Valley residents Wednesday confronted a shattered city that has sustained more than $80 million in damage and is short of water in the wake of Monday’s 6.6 magnitude earthquake.
Although stores and other businesses slowly began to reopen, residents still had trouble finding essentials such as food, water and repair items, including water heaters for their homes. City officials estimated the repair job will take months, if not years.
“Every fire guy and sheriff’s guy is saying it, ‘This was the hardest-hit area’ in the Los Angeles County territories patrolled by the two agencies,” said Santa Clarita city spokeswoman Gail Foy.
City Manager George Caravalho said the $80-million damage estimate included private and public property, such as roads and utilities, and is likely to rise.
City Hall, which suffered extensive interior damage, has been evacuated twice--after Monday’s quake and again after Wednesday’s strong aftershock. The city government has been operating an emergency command center from under a large tent in the adjoining parking lot. The future of the building is uncertain.
City workers staffing telephone hot lines said call volume from residents was up Wednesday. “The shock is wearing off. People are beginning to expect more from us,” said Foy.
Meanwhile, federal officials announced that they plan to open a disaster assistance center at 1 p.m. today at Canyon Country Park, 17651 Soledad Canyon Road.
Emergency workers in the valley area that is home to 160,000 people still had no estimate on the number of people injured, although they did confirm that a man in his 60s died of a heart attack on the day of the quake. The area’s major hospital, Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial, was open only to treat minor injuries, with major cases being sent to County-USC Medical Center, a city official said.
The original earthquake shattered glass and cracked and crumbled building facades throughout the city, particularly in older areas of Newhall. Many makeshift wooden carports collapsed on cars, although city officials said they knew of no residential or commercial buildings that had completely failed.
The city’s large mobile home park communities were among the areas hardest hit, with countless homes jerked off their foundations. And in one instance Monday, at least eight mobile homes at the Greenbrier Estates Park were gutted by flames when the quake ruptured their natural gas connection.
Substantial areas of the city, particularly around Valencia, remained without water. Residents with water service were being warned to boil tap water before drinking. All but about 1,500 customers in the city had electricity restored as of Wednesday.
But officials said it could be three to five days before all natural gas service is restored, mainly because Southern California Gas Co. workers will have to go house to house turning on gas that residents had shut off after the quake to avoid fires.
The commute for Santa Clarita Valley residents and their neighbors to the north in the Antelope Valley through the crippled interchange of the Golden State and Antelope Valley freeways continued to be a major headache. “That’s one of the things in the long term we’re most worried about. It could have an enormous economic impact on the area,” Foy said.
Even before two strong midafternoon aftershocks shook the region, many fearful city residents have been sleeping outside in cars or tents although their houses were structurally sound.
“What if we fell asleep inside? We might die,” said 16-year-old Florentino Garcia of Newhall, who spent the night in a car with his 14-year-old cousin.
Because of the water problems, city officials worked with Los Angeles County to bring in five large truckloads of water Wednesday, an estimated 30,000 1.5-liter bottles to distribute to residents at five locations throughout the city. Inmates from the county jail facility in Castaic were dispatched to dole out the water.
The National Guard sent two 5,000-gallon trucks to the valley. Most of the bottled water was snapped up within hours, and city officials were trying to arrange another five truckloads for today.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Assistant City Manager Ken Pulskamp. “We got five semi-trucks. We’re going through a semi-truck an hour. It’s like we’re pouring it into the ground.”
Through it all, residents appeared to remain in relatively good cheer, and many told of neighbors sharing needed items or otherwise helping each other.
Suzanna Tabjdi of Valencia said a neighbor, one of the few willing to stay in her kitchen for any length of time, cooked chicken fajitas for her next-door neighbors Tuesday night and Tabjdi told of sharing a lamp with her neighbor, Lisa Gomez.
“We spent the night in the van. We don’t want to go into the house. My husband does, but he’s the only one,” said Gomez, who is seriously considering leaving California in the wake of the earthquakes.
“Everyone’s starting to get a little gamy,” said Lowell Chambers, also of Valencia, whose house remained without water and natural gas service Wednesday. Chambers said residents in his neighborhood have been carrying buckets of water from a community pool to their houses to wash themselves and to flush toilets.
Even waiting in line at one of the city’s water distribution centers, Chambers still had enough of a sense of humor to tell a reporter a joke. “We have four seasons here. Right?” he said. “Fire, flood, drought, and earthquake.”
The city’s three shelters--at Saugus High School, Canyon High School and Newhall Park--remained open and have been accommodating about 1,000 people each night, although at least hundreds more also are sleeping out at various parks and schools in the area.
Most area public schools were not expected to open today. And city officials set up hot line numbers for residents to call for up-to-date information. Those are (805) 286-4105 through -4113.
Mail service, which had either been halted or very limited earlier in the week, began to resume Wednesday. But when a mail carrier tried to deliver three boxes of mail to the building that houses City Hall, he was stymied because the mailboxes had been jammed shut by the earthquakes.
Santa Clarita residents who have been without water and power for days are finding those amenities in Antelope Valley hotels 30 or so miles away in an area that was largely unscathed by the Monday morning quake.
“I talked to one man who said he came here because his children were so terrified,” said Gary Fischer, co-owner of the 150-room Desert Inn in Lancaster. “They just didn’t want to go back to their house.”
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