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Letters to the Editor: The 1971 Sylmar earthquake showed just how fragile L.A. could be

Vehicles crushed by the 1971 Sylmar earthquake
Vehicles are crushed by a fallen structure after the magnitude-6.6 Sylmar earthquake on Feb. 9, 1971.
(Boris Yaro / Los Angeles Times)

To the editor: Having grown up in Van Nuys in a family that had been in the Los Angeles area since the 1930s, I was typically not surprised by earthquakes — that is, until the Sylmar earthquake on Feb. 9, 1971. (“50 years ago, the Sylmar earthquake shook L.A., and nothing’s been the same since,” Feb. 9)

Notwithstanding the fact that we were put on notice to be prepared for evacuation should the Van Norman dam break, the days immediately following the event brought to light other concerns. In particular, the lesson that I’ve never forgotten is how quickly that the shelves in local grocery and other stores could be cleaned out.

While the Sylmar quake was certainly not the “big one,” it was enough to permanently alter my perspective of how important it is to prepare for such an occurrence. Although it may never be necessary, setting aside enough essentials to get you through several days after a disaster is definitely a good idea.

Don Bullock, Encinitas

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To the editor: As a senior citizen I’ll never forget the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. My dad set up a tent in the orange grove where we spent several nights until the shaking stopped.

My next significant shake was in 1970, when my husband and I were spending his sabbatical year in Peru. The shaking destroyed one-third of the buildings in our town.

Then, one month after our return to Los Angeles, we were shaken out of bed by the Sylmar quake.

Fortunately I did not suffer any significant losses from these quakes, but I am securing my cupboard doors and keeping a flashlight beside my bed because I know I am earthquake-prone.

Jean Koch, Los Angeles

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To the editor: I cannot resist linking the article on the 50th anniversary of the Sylmar earthquake and your report on the need for a large appropriation to the state’s high-speed rail project.

Those of us who felt the intensity of the Sylmar earthquake have memories, such as overturned furniture, cracked chimneys, broken water mains and demolished homes. In my unheated, darkened classroom at Sylmar High, students huddled in small groups, recounting their experiences.

The Sierra Madre fault zone, which also affected the Northridge earthquake in 1994, is capable of producing a 7.5-magnitude quake. Unfortunately, the California High Speed Rail Authority’s chosen route from Palmdale to Burbank will require tunneling through the San Gabriel Mountains and having trains emerge near the 118 and 210 freeways, close to the epicenter of the 1971 quake.

Not only will funding for the tunneling be exorbitant, but the tunnel itself could be life-threatening to rail passengers.

Katharine Paull, Kagel Canyon


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