The Northridge Earthquake: Preparing For The Next One : Quake Memories : Moments of Helplessness and Wonder

We asked our readers to share, in their own words, their memories of the Northridge earthquake. The response has been tremendous. More than 400 readers responded, sharing everything from poems to one-line letters to essays thousands of words long. Clearly, the act of writing was a cathartic experience.

Over the next several days we will print excepts from these contributions. Some have been edited for length or clarity. For our "Voices" section, we have plucked memorable lines from yet more of the letters.

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I've always tried to be prepared for disasters because I don't like surprises. I'm 60 years old, but the Northridge earthquake reminded me that life's journey still hasn't covered enough miles to protect me against all the unexpected events.

Like a lot of folks, I was literally picked up and dumped on the floor by the mighty shove from the Earth's innards. The dresser drawer that landed in my lap did hand me my flashlight and battery powered radio. I was surprised by how dark a power-free neighborhood can be.

Getting outside and making human contact was my immediate goal. I felt needed when I could help elderly neighbors out of their homes, comfort those more afraid than I.

I was happy that I could light my camp stove and make hot coffee for everyone. I felt strong that I could turn off my own gas, and help others do the same. I was proud that I had drinking water to share and more food stored than I needed for myself, but God had a bigger test for me that I couldn't have prepared for.

My daughter Tracianne died from a seizure not long after that frightening night. She was in a fragile condition from an accident, and we believe that the stress and trauma of the earthquake was too much for her. I've always believed the greatest joys in life are the celebrations of the heart. That joy comes harder now, and when the Earth dances around now, I don't feel very prepared.

BARBARA BURWELL

Northridge

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Here's how my life has changed since the quake: I now live in Nashville, Tenn. My condo in Sylmar suffered considerable damage. . . . So, I had no choice but to let the bank have the property back. I had it appraised a few months ago at $68,000, as is. I paid $125,000 back in 1989, and I owe $93,000. It was financially and emotionally devastating.

I am one of those extremely responsible people who pays my bills within days of receiving them. I had impeccable credit up until now, so it really pains me to have bad credit due to a situation completely beyond my control.

When the quake hit, I thought we were simply going to die--I thought the roof would fall on us. Plus a friend was visiting from St. Louis, a 74-year-old woman. I thought surely either the quake or a heart attack would kill her. Amazingly, she did fine, but couldn't get out of town fast enough, and vows never to return to California.

I moved to Nashville in March, and find it to be a much better life--the cost of living is lower, but the main benefit is that I feel so much safer. The people are much friendlier, there's almost no graffiti or any gang activity. That's not to say it will stay this way, but I'll enjoy it for now.

I don't ever want to live in California again. I grew up on the East Coast and don't think there are enough good points about California to make life worth living there. Quality of life is really important--life is short enough!

SUSAN NICHOLS

Nashville, Tenn.

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We ran outside after the quake and I remember us all huddling under a blanket with no shoes and the ground was so cold. We were shaking real hard. I remember too, hearing birds squawking in the pitch dark and I looked up--only to see the most beautiful starlit sky I have ever seen in Los Angeles. Without any lights or power, this city showed the heavens.

My family said a prayer under that blanket. We were so grateful to be together. In the nights that followed the terror of Jan. 17, my family slept in a small camping tent in our back yard.

I have a very vivid memory of our two big mountain dogs guarding that little tent like lions do on a brownstone. Only difference, if one got close to our two huge dogs, you'd see they were still shaking. My daughter let them into the tent and we all shook together.

LAUREL PAGE BOWEN

Toluca Lake

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