Friday, January 17, 2014


Twenty years ago today our across the street neighbors Sarge and Judy were killed in the 6.7 (or reputedly higher) Richter Scaled Northridge earthquake. This tragedy dispelled virtually all neighborhood complaints about the manifold actual property damage everyone suffered. Our block was three miles diagonally from the quake epicenter. In our own case, the entire 2-story chimney came down 10 feet away from where we were sleeping, all the plaster walls of our then 84-year-old farmhouse cracked, ceiling light fixtures hit the floors and our television did a swan dive to oblivion.

 What did it feel like?  Like being in a waterbed on some small boat trapped on raging storm-tossed seas, with the sound of every truck and train on the entire planet rumbling by. Lifelong Los Angeles residents that we were, we had bolted top heavy bookcases and armoires to the walls heretofore and had placed flashlights and hard-soled shoes beside our bed every night by habit so the dogs and we made it safely outside. No one anywhere in the county stayed inside with all of the huge aftershocks coming one after the other, and between aftershocks we made hurried sortis back inside for supplies as needed.

All Los Angeles electrical power was gone. In the now unnaturally dark 4 a.m. morning bereft of citylight glare, we didn't even know the extent of all our damage until the sun rose. Power was returned in about five days, but we had to boil our plumbing water to potability for the next two weeks, as the reservoirs had all taken massive hits of debris and contaminants. That quake night, immediate neighbors shouted over the fences to one another to establish that all souls basically were still okay. 

It wasn't until three days later that we realized Sarge and Judy weren't accounted for and, unlike most supplies seekers, that their cars hadn't moved. My adulthood BFF and then neighbor Mary Kay, bassist of The Dogs devised an effective plan for getting help in an emergency of no power, pre-cell phones and a population of 11 million panicked people. She went to the restaurant most frequented by local police on their breaks and told them she was worried about our elderly neighbors, that we were going to break in to check on them, and that we wanted the cops to know in advance that we weren't looting. Of course the cops then followed her to our block, wherein one chop of a borrowed ax through the door odiferously told the whole sad story: the hoarder couple had been dead for three days, crushed by their belongings.

 We had just moved in three years prior, refurbished everything and now had to do it all over again. Luckily we'd had the prescience to retro-fit the house for earthquake safety those same three years prior.  As our contractor guy Tim said, "You'll have lotsa damage, all the walls will crack, but unless its a nuclear earthquake on steroids, the house basically should stay up. If it's bigger than The Big One, you'll be dead anyway and won't care." If we hadn't retro-fitted in advance, the house would have been matchsticks.  

At that point in our personal history we would still travel a long road for many years to repair everything in our now 103-year-old farmhouse in the middle of a now 15 million persons populated, eternally natural disaster-prone city. Today's variant, Jan. 17, 2014: terrible wildfires borne of a drought (3 inches of rain last year vs. 18 as the norm) and fueled by both hot, dry Santa Ana winds and also by the three brainless morons in custody who deliberately started it. 

Left, similar Sears kit house in nearby Fillmore CA that did not survive same quake. Right, our house as of 2016, post drought.

Top photo of my better half Mr. Twister assessing further damage after we'd picked up the chimney bricks during the afternoon of the quake: photo © Heather Harris. All remaining shots are courtesy of guest photographer Kurt Ingham. Below, contemporary news broadcast footage.

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