The Northridge Quake: One Year Later : Memories of the Quake

The shaking, the cuts and bruises, the promises a parent could no longer keep, the contrast between the beauty of the night and the terror inside millions of homes and apartments--these are the kinds of scenes that will haunt many in Los Angeles today when they remember the quake that struck a year ago. Some offerings:

*

The earthquake struck Northridge Meadows apartments like an angry giant fist from hell. Reflexes dazedly led me through absolute darkness to the side of my young son's bed, where a wall lay collapsed. In tearful relief, I gratefully realized he was visiting his grandparents during the Martin Luther King holiday.

After frantically searching for a flashlight and whatever clothes I could grasp, I instinctively followed the screams and shouts of others trying to find their way out to safety. I managed to find my way out in spite of the absence of the main entrance (it was gone), into the strange surroundings of darkness, fear, hopelessness and helplessness to which so many victims of sudden tragedy can relate.

As residents, police and emergency vehicles came upon the scene, I looked back at my home and in shock realized the three-story building was reduced to two, resulting in the tragic deaths of 16 of my friends and neighbors. The numbers indicating our address now lay almost upon the ground, mockingly neat and level above the destruction and tragedy that lay below. Rescue efforts were almost immediate, amid desperate efforts to locate the source of screams of those still trapped.

As I look back one year later, the initial shock and numbness I experienced during the demise of Northridge Meadows have finally given way, allowing me to appreciate life more immeasurably than I ever thought possible. I can hug my son and especially thank the Lord for granting me the sweet taste of survival, recovery and new hope.

ROYA ROKNI, Torrance

*

The day started out like any other major disaster and continued that way until night. My girlfriend and I quickly found each other and decided we should stay together for the night. By 9 p.m. we were exhausted and climbed into bed, hoping my condo was not going to collapse overnight.

We started reminiscing about our whirlwind romance of just over two months, getting overly emotional (OK, sappy) and trying to forget what an awful day it was. While recounting the details of our budding relationship, I was struck by how natural it seemed and I was overcome with a sudden urge. I wanted something good to come out of this otherwise terrible day.

I proposed. She accepted. More aftershocks.

Twenty minutes later, power was restored for 10 minutes before being lost again. I turned off everything electrical except for one radio. My radio was set to KROQ, the alternative music station, when the power returned.

We decided the first song we heard would be "our" song. Unfortunately, it turned out to be "Teen-Age Enema Nurse (Nurses in Bondage)" by a band whose name is best left unprinted in a family newspaper. At least the lyrics have something to do with the title of the song. We're still debating playing the song at the wedding. . . .

The wedding should be held April 1, 1995 (honest!). I say "should be" because the site we plan on holding the wedding has not yet completed their earthquake repairs.

ERIC FORMAN (and EDYNN MILLER)

Canoga Park

*

The aftershocks kept coming. The walls cracked, tiles fell, glass doors blew out. Utter terror.

And this is the moment I will never forget. There, sitting under the door frame of the bathroom, holding only each other for, literally, dear life, I said, "Holly, I've really enjoyed--" which was interrupted by "Mom, don't say it."

I started again, "Holly, it's been a nice--" Again I heard, "Mom, don't say it." Then out of the mouth of a very wise 17-year-old babe came, "Mom, we're not going to die. But I think I am going to throw up."

And that is how I survived the Northridge quake of '94. Thank you, Holly.

MARGARET HARRIS, Los Angeles

*

Today, we make sure our 5-month-old baby, James Bryant McQuade, is never under the ceiling fan, and his crib is always located in an open space of the house. I constantly keep all hallways and door openings clear of any toys or objects. After getting a glass or dish out of the cupboard, by habit, we secure the lock.

On a positive note, with everything bad, there is always something good. We used to live in a crime-infested neighborhood in Reseda. . . . Now, since the quake, my 3-year-old son Kevin rides his tricycle back and forth on the sidewalk that borders our new house on a corner in a friendlier neighborhood. . . .

I should mention that when a six-foot standing shelf holding some 500 record albums crashed down at our condo, not one record broke. And when I tested my turntable to see if it was still working, I reached into one of the many boxes without looking and pulled out the hit album by Grand Funk Railroad called "Survival." The first song that played was "Feelin' All Right."

GEORGE S. McQUADE III, Tarzana

*

I remember all my inanimate objects becoming animated. My home was vibrating so hard I thought we were about to be digested. I'll never forget the sounds--the glass breaking, the furniture crashing, the house growling. Thank God it was dark and I couldn't see what was happening. . . .

I remember standing outside in the dark with my neighbors. I was wearing a short nightgown and blue shoes with my leg bleeding from a glass cut. How warm and kind the weather was to us. I looked up in the darkness and saw thousands of stars--stars I thought you could only see in isolated places like the desert or mountaintops. I realized the stars are always there, but it took the blackout to make them visible. What a beautiful sight.

KAREN PETERSEN, Chatsworth

*

Daniel was being very fussy that night, and at about 2 a.m. my wife went to his bedroom and brought him into ours for the night.

Usually when he would sleep in our room, we would put Daniel into a small 2-foot-high portable crib that we placed to the side of our bed, but for some reason, Debbie elected to have him sleep between us that night.

When the quake hit at 4:31, my wife and I held onto Daniel for dear life and rode out the shaking in bed; my wife gave out a blood-curdling scream, while I had the type of voiceless yell that I previously experienced only on the steepest slope of a roller coaster. . . .

As my eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, I will never forget the sight of our 5-foot-tall, four-drawer oak dresser, toppled onto its side precisely where we would have put Daniel in his portable crib. He surely would have been killed, had we placed him where he had in the past.

MICHAEL CLARK, Granada Hills

*

Most of all, I remember how on that day my power to protect my children was stripped away. Never again will I be able to assure my son that everything will be all right, that he will be safe--he knows it and I know it. I feel like the wizard in "The Wizard of Oz" when the curtain was pulled away, revealing just an ordinary little man.

I now feel the weight of every building I enter, judging my chances for survival, and other times my hands shake or my heart jumps. They say time heals all wounds, but I guess one year just hasn't been long enough for me.

HELEN CHARLES, Burbank

*

I have the dubious honor of living in the epicenter of the last two major earthquakes in the San Fernando Valley.

My life changed dramatically, first, on Feb. 9, 1971, as a 12-year-old living in Sylmar. I have memories of tremendous fear and uncertainty from that time, when I first witnessed the powerful destruction an earthquake could cause in a matter of seconds.

There was significant damage to my home and my neighborhood, but somehow my mother was able to comfort me and my brother and sister and we picked up the pieces and went on with our lives.

Twenty-three years later, myself a mother of two young children, living in Northridge this past Jan. 17 jolted me in more ways than one. My first response was, "Let's get the kids and get out of the house," and second, "I can't believe this is happening to me again!"

One year later, my house has been rebuilt, yet I don't think I'll ever feel completely safe there again. My emotional recovery has taken longer this time, partly because I worry not just about my own safety but that of my family. For their sakes, I tried to keep my emotions in check (especially during each aftershock).

Lastly, my life changed in another subtle way. Every night before going to sleep, I check first on my sleeping children, then for the shoes and flashlight next to my bed . . . just in case.

JULIE R. LEVIN, Northridge

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