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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 : WILLIE L. WILLIAMS

The Northridge earthquake wasn’t Los Angeles Police Chief Willie L. Williams’ first: the Landers/Big Bear quake struck on his first day on the job in Los Angeles and gave him a taste of what was to come. And Philadelphia, where he lived before coming to Southern California, has a fault running through the northwest corner of the city. But the Northridge temblor, which caused $60,000 worth of damage to his Woodland Hills home, was the first to really affect him personally.

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My observation as somebody living in Los Angeles just under three years is that people in the L.A. area are probably some of the most resilient people I’ve ever met. The earthquake itself could have frightened people out of the community. But in two years (leading up to the quake), we’ve had riot, fires, major floods and earthquakes right behind each other. And yet the people of Southern California and the Greater Los Angeles area keep bouncing back.

As a new arrival, I observed something special and unique that you don’t see in other parts of the country. That tells me whatever man or Mother Nature brings, the people here are going to recover from it. We just pull together and say, “Let’s keep going forward.”

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My first impressions were being rocked and thrown awake at 4:30 in the morning, remembering the armoire swishing down about a foot from where we were laying and not realizing at first it was the armoire.

We were new arrivals in the Valley, did our shopping at the Northridge mall, ate at restaurants across the street. To realize that in a couple of seconds Mother Nature could bring it to rubble brings your thoughts back to earth.

Some of my neighbors suffered losses much more than I did. Some were injured who had brick fireplaces in their houses that fell down. You can still see piles of rubble on the streets where we live, piles of rubble. Contractors are still coming in and out during the day. But the people still seem to be pulling together.

As chief, I constantly think of people’s work inside the department. We had officers who headed right out to work, officers who lost all their belongings, lost their homes. I drove around Wednesday night (after the quake) just going to the different centers that been set up. I saw officers doing everything from helping pitch tents to an officer in Van Nuys showing someone how to cook on a Sterno stove. We have pictures of officers directing traffic, helping a mother change diapers and keeping gangbangers out of the (shelters).

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