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Los Angeles Times Special Quake Report: One Year Later : Still Shaken / Voices : From the Epicenter to D.C.: Reflections on the Devastation : PRESIDENT CLINTON

President Clinton had returned from a trip to Russia on the evening of Jan. 16, 1994, and was still asleep at 7:31 a.m. Washington time when the ground began shaking in Los Angeles. Within about half an hour, he was notified. His first response was to call his brother, Roger, in Redondo Beach. Two days later, Clinton was in Los Angeles.

* I remember that day very vividly--going out to the place where the highway had broken so badly. And I remember talking to all the people who had lost their homes, some had lost their jobs, and how incredibly impressed I was by their good spirits and their bravery, because a lot of them just said, “Well, we’re grateful we’re alive; we’re glad we weren’t hurt.” It was very moving.

I have to give a lot of credit, frankly, to the mayor out there, too. I think the fact that Mayor Riordan was steady and thorough and put together a very well-organized operation that worked with the state’s disaster people and with us. ...Then after it got going, we had great efforts by HUD, by the SBA and, of course, by the Transportation Department. We did some things in the Northridge disaster that I think will give us a real clue to how we ought to respond in the future.

But we’ve learned how to do some things. The most impressive thing, I think, to the people who are actually trying to get their lives together was how we completed the freeway rebuilding in roughly half the estimated time by changing the rules on bidding and contracting. We knew when the earthquake occurred at Northridge that it was so vast that there would be people who’d still be picking up the pieces of their lives a year later, maybe even longer, and we’re just going to keep working until we systematically work through all these things.

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I do believe there are some things we can do to minimize the problems in the future. We need to be more careful with construction on highways. We need to be careful with our construction on homes. But part of the price that Californians pay for the magic, the beauty of the place, the size, the majesty of it, is dealing with the fragility of the land when it comes to being vulnerable to earthquakes. And there is nothing the rest of us can do, as far as I know, about that. We just have to try to prepare for it, be very disciplined in how we build buildings and transportation systems and other things, and then have the quickest and most flexible response we can in a way that enables us to minimize our costs.


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