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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 : HENRY CISNEROS

Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros was among the first federal officials on the scene of the Northridge earthquake, arriving several hours behind Transportation Secretary Federico Pena. Seeing the disaster up close helped shape federal policies that would emerge in the following days.

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I don’t know that people in Los Angeles had a full appreciation for the number of poor people who lived in the San Fernando Valley. But it was as if people who were living doubled up and tripled up, living in substandard buildings and so forth, suddenly were thrust out onto the street. It was a stunner to most people. All of a sudden, 30,000 people were in the parks and could not go back to where they had been.

As a Latino, I was not prepared for the number of people who were Latinos--and I say Latinos because they were not all Mexican American. Many were Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, Costa Ricans.

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Los Angeles is heavenly in its attractiveness and it has drawn tens of millions of people, and they have chosen hillsides and canyons and water features and fault lines to live in and around. That’s a conscious choice. It’s not going to happen that we’re going to move large numbers of people, so the next order of business has to do with taking whatever measures we can to save lives. It may sound cold. It may sound overly alarmist, Cassandra-like to talk about the Big One, but rationality tells us there will be a big earthquake at some time and with only a little less good luck than we had this time--4:31 in the morning, most people in their homes--the loss of life could be substantial. We have to be adult-like and not childlike in our preparations. Adults plan for reality. Children never think about the unpleasant inevitabilities, until the time comes for tears and wringing of hands, and then its too late.


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