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Earthquake Memories : Children Recall Their Fears, Share Joys

We asked our readers to share, in their own words, their memories of the Northridge earthquake. 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.

Today and Friday we will print excerpts 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. Today we feature essays from children (along with an essay from one grateful dad).

I was sleeping. Suddenly, the house began to shake; actually everything was shaking, the closets, the drawers, my bed and walls, too. I got really scared because I had never been in an earthquake before. I didn’t make any sound. I fell. A piece of wood fell on my sister. She didn’t scream.

At first I didn’t know what caused the floor to shake. I thought it was war because in my country, Lebanon, the houses would shake when the bombs dropped.

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Finally the earthquake was over. I ran to my dad’s room. He told us to pack some important things and then we all went outside.

That day we moved our furniture from our old house that is now collapsed and very dangerous if you’re standing next to it and an aftershock happened.

So, we worked very hard. We rented a little truck for all our stuff to sit in. At night we had to sleep on the ground outside the house so nobody could take our stuff.

JOELLE RAFFOUL Age 13 Nobel Middle School in Northridge *

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Before the earthquake, I was brave to be alone and worked very good alone. After the earthquake, I wanted to be with other people. I didn’t want to be alone or work alone. I do not want to sleep alone and be in the dark alone.

Before the earthquake, I didn’t even think about the earthquake, but now I always think about aftershocks. It really scares me. I always want to be with my brother. But now I sometimes forget about it.

JANICE CHOI Age 9 Woodlake Elementary School in Woodland Hills *

When the earthquake hit, I was asleep and all of a sudden it felt as if someone were underneath my bed, pushing it four feet into the air and dropping it. I was scared and didn’t know what was going on.

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After it was all over, I was even more scared to find out that a heavy shell bookend fell from above my sister’s bed. Normally she was sleeping right where the shell had fallen, but luckily that night, as if she knew something was going to happen, she was sleeping on the other side of her bed.

Almost anyone who has a brother or sister, sometime in their life says that they hate them or that they wished that something would happen; but when it really comes down to it, they love each other and would truly be torn apart if something were to happen to them.

Since the earthquake has happened, I realize more and more, as each day goes by, that even if you don’t believe in your mind that you love your brother or sister, in your heart there is a special bond between siblings and that they truly do love each other with all their heart, no matter what they say.

Nothing much in my house broke, unlike a lot of other people, so in a way, for me, it was a good thing that the earthquake happened because now I realize how special my sister is to me.

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HEATHER WOOD Age 12 Sierra Vista Junior High in Canyon Country *

All earthquakes are scary and creepy, but you can’t panic or someone will get hurt. I panicked and my dad got hurt. So did I. I fell off my bed onto the floor.

CYNTHIA BRAVO Age 9 Woodlake Elementary School *

I didn’t have to go to school for a week. I went to live with my cousin because we had damage at home so we were sleeping in our truck.

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During the week that I did not go to school, my cousin and I had fun playing together. My neighbor that didn’t talk to us a lot came over and we met them again. Now they are my mom’s friends.

We have since moved to our new apartment building on Burnet Avenue.

I feel good that I handled the earthquake well and I can better be ready for any disaster in the future.

MARCELINO RUIZ Age 11 Noble Avenue Elementary School in North Hills *

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I think the earthquake of ’94 was scary because I live in Northridge. In my room, my dresser fell down and all my toys fell on the ground. I had an alligator head with teeth in its mouth and that fell on the ground. My dad got my brother out of the room and carried him outside. When he came back for me, he stepped on the alligator and cut his toe very badly, but he got me anyway.

When my mom tried to get out of her room, the mirror fell on her. She pushed it off and got outside quickly. Our friends were renting a house across the street because their house in Encino caught on fire awhile back. They were about to move back into their home in Encino, so we moved in with them. Their house in Encino wasn’t even damaged.

Almost every day we ate at Burger King. I still remember the earthquake as if it happened yesterday.

JARED ABRAMS Age 10 Chatsworth Hills Academy *

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The reason I think my story is unique is because my 11th birthday was on the day of the earthquake. To celebrate, three of my best friends spent the night. Their parents lived in Newhall. I live in Sherman Oaks.

We all slept in sleeping bags on the living room floor by the fireplace until 4:31 a.m. when the earthquake hit. It was so noisy and violent we couldn’t get up. It shook our house so hard everything fell over. My mom ran from her bedroom and threw her body over us. We were crying and scared so bad.

After it stopped, mom told us to get under our big table and stay there. Even my dog went under the table with us. She was really scared!

My friends’ parents couldn’t pick them up after the earthquake because the freeways were damaged. They had to stay at my house for three days. So we partied and had cake the next day during the aftershocks.

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I was glad to have my friends with me. They were pretty brave and we helped each other during the next three days. Talking helped.

Jan. 17, 1994, was the scariest birthday party and the longest birthday party I’ve ever had and one I’ll never forget.

COSMO MOORE Age 12 Carpenter Avenue Elementary School in Studio City *

I remember that I woke up to go to the bathroom and when I got out of the bathroom, I was about to get into bed when it started to shake. I saw that the Nintendo and Super Nintendo were going to fall so I pushed them back. Then I woke everybody up and we went out.

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The bad news is that my baseball trophy broke and we didn’t have any electricity. But the good news is I got to spend a lot of good time with my parents.

I like earthquakes a little because I got to spend time with my parents and some days off school . . . for which I will have to go to extra school in 1995 for!

ERNESTO ARCINIEGA Age 11 Noble Avenue Elementary School *

The most memorable stuff in the earthquake was when we had a party in the street! All the dogs were there too. My mom used a gas barbecue to make waffles for everyone on the block. It was fun. It also gave us a chance to meet all the neighbors and to learn a little about them.

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DANI BROMBERG Age 10 1/2 Chatsworth Hills Academy

*

I live with my brother, Aaron, and parents in Chatsworth. On Jan. 17, Aaron and I were sleeping at our grandparents’ in Van Nuys. Just before 4:31 a.m., I got a drink. When my bed started shaking, I woke up Aaron before he would fall out of bed. We were screaming at the top of our lungs. I was scared because my grandpa is disabled, but he got to us safely.

We moved into an apartment. At home, I have my own room but at the apartment, Aaron and I shared. My neighbors and relatives moved there too while their homes were being fixed. We came back to our house every day for mail and sometimes took pictures. On Sept. 1, we moved back.

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It feels great to be back, but still sad about moving away from the apartment where I made friends. When somebody makes sharp movements, it feels like an earthquake or aftershock. But I know what to do if it is an earthquake. I go under a table or inside a doorway. If I’m in bed, I pull the blankets over my head. But I still SCREAM my head off. I probably always will.

CRAIG SCOTT SIMON

Age 11

Pinecrest Preparatory School in Chatsworth *

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I reached for my eyeglasses, which I keep on my night stand, but they were nowhere to be found. I needed them in order to see.

My wife went to get our 3-year-old daughter, Amber, who was her main concern. Meanwhile, I literally stumbled blindly out of bed. My right big toe was killing me, since the bedroom television had fallen on it. My wife called out for a flashlight. It was the darkest two minutes of my life. I really thought this was the “Big One.”

I cried out, “I can’t see! I can’t see a thing!”

Just then, Amber reached down to the floor about two feet from my night stand. “Here they are, Daddy.” She handed them right up to me. Suddenly, I could see again. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I reached in to the closet for our earthquake bag and pulled out a beautiful, pink flashlight. It worked brilliantly. I gave Amber the blue flashlight with the double-A’s. We used the flashlights to help us get dressed and evacuate our three-story apartment building.

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Amber remained calm and helpful, as damage reports flooded in. “No more earthquakes, you guys. Earthquakes go away! OK?” she said, after yet another large aftershock. We put her back to bed with her two favorite dolls. “No more earthquakes, Amber,” we said. “No more earthquakes.” If only if could be so, I thought.

I will never forget the heroism of this brave little 3-year-old, our one and only child, who helped me see my way out the darkness.

JEFF SHALMI Burbank


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