Quake Victims Invited to Share Their Memories : Anniversary: Communities organize events to help residents celebrate successes and face fears together.


Painful as it may be, Ventura County's quake-rattled communities are being asked today to look back on the year that has passed since the Northridge earthquake shook their lives.

Simi Valley's city historian wants residents to tell their quake stories to a camera tonight for a videotaped oral history of the disaster.

And in Fillmore and Simi Valley, mental health workers are inviting earthquake victims to open houses to celebrate their successes or vent their emotions on the first anniversary of the quake.

Today's anniversary "may not be the most pleasant reminder" of what has happened since the 6.7-magnitude quake damaged 9,001 buildings and disrupted the lives of thousands in Ventura County, said Kenny Aragon, a county mental health worker.

"A lot of people will probably be experiencing a lot of grief, replaying the physical experiences they had during the quake," Aragon said.

"The open houses are going to give people a chance to connect with other community members," she said. "We're going to have pictures taken before and after of the homes that were damaged so people can see the progress they've made. . . . It'll also give them a chance to talk about what they're feeling."

Aragon runs Project COPE, or Counseling Ordinary People in Emergencies.

The network of therapists, supported by a $4.2-million grant from FEMA, offers counseling to Ventura County residents who need help handling emotions spawned by the violent earthquake.

An open house in Fillmore is set for 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Fillmore Earthquake Services Center, 552 Sespe St., next to City Hall.

An open house in Simi Valley is set for 2 to 5 p.m. at the local headquarters of Project COPE, 2139 Tapo St., Suite 115.

The open houses also will feature screenings of videotapes on home safety and disaster preparedness, and literature will be available on how to safeguard property against earthquake damage, Aragon said.

Many earthquake victims are midway through a sequence of strong emotional states that often follow traumatic experiences, she said.

"In the beginning, a lot of people were in the heroic phase, out there saving their neighbors and helping the community," she said. "Then people experienced a lot of sadness. They started to grieve for their losses. Then there was anger, then depression.

"During the anniversary, a lot of people will experience a lot of anxiety, and a lot of people are anticipating the same thing will happen to them again," Aragon said. "We want to assure people, these are normal reactions. . . . It's been extremely traumatizing for everyone."

Simi Valley City Historian Patricia Havens said she wants to videotape city residents' memories of the earthquake and recovery so the city can look back on the impact of the disaster.

"I'm hoping we're going to look back over the next five or 10 years and say, 'That was our Big One,' " Havens said Monday.

"I wanted to give them a little bit of a chance to say how it's happened to them, how it's worked out financially or personally . . . to make a historical record for the future of how this turned out for this valley."

Havens said she invites Simi Valley residents to tell their stories for posterity tonight from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Strathearn Historical Museum, 137 Strathearn Place in Simi Valley.

She asked that they call the museum at 526-6453 today so she can order enough refreshments and coordinate the videotaping.

The city of Fillmore also plans to commemorate the Jan. 17, 1994, earthquake with a celebration from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday featuring food, music by the Fillmore High School band and informational booths run by disaster agencies.

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