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Earthquake Memories : ‘Dollhouses stomped into the ground’

In the predawn darkness, the word spread immediately among the knots of half-clad neighbors on Beverly Ridge Drive: two stilt houses, cantilevered over the steep hillside on our quiet cul-de-sac in Sherman Oaks, were gone.

When we got there, minutes later, we saw that the houses had been wrenched off their foundations, had slid down and been crushed, like so many dollhouses stomped into the ground by a willful child.

One belonged to the Rosens, whom we knew because our daughter had baby-sat for them years ago. Were they alive? Then we saw a copy of the Sunday Times lying on what was left of the driveway and realized that they must be away. The next day we found out that the Rosens had been in Big Bear and first learned of what had happened to their home when they recognized its crushed remnants on TV.

The Tyre-Vigils, both physicians, lived in the other house with their 4-year-old daughter, Amy. Firemen had already arrived and were working desperately to free the trapped family.

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Two hours later, they managed to extricate the husband and then his wife, Nancy, who was seven months pregnant. Amy had been crushed to death, the youngest victim of the earthquake. Two months later, Nancy gave birth to a healthy baby boy.

Most of the damage on Beverly Ridge Drive has been repaired. But each day as we drive to work, two large gaps in the neat row of homes overlooking the Valley remind us of the random, irrational forces that claimed some and spared others.

TOM TUGEND, Sherman Oaks


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