My Earthquake Experience – California January 17, 1994

While living in California I experienced floods and saw houses sliding down hillsides. I was there when the Rodney King beating took place, actually lived a short distance from where the trial was held. I experienced the riots afterwards. I was teaching in one of the preschools during the worst day of the rioting. All the parents were called and those who were able came to get their children and take them home. The children whose parents couldn’t be reached or couldn’t get away to get them, were all gathered into one room of the school. The blinds were closed, the doors locked. All the teachers were there also, including some who shouldn’t have been because they were hysterical and upsetting the children. I sat in the middle of the room and played the guitar and sang with the kids and teachers while the rioting went on a few blocks from the school.

I also experienced one of more devastating wildfires the state had. Standing in the front door of my living room I could look across the way to a hillside that was burning closer every minute. The smoke filled the air. Many people had packed important belongings in their cars and were ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
I was there when the murders of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman took place; I was actually traveling the opposite direction on the same freeway at the time when O. J. Simpson’s white Bronco, followed by the police cars, were traveling on it. My son and I were heading for the airport and heard it on the radio. Our exit ramp came up and we left the freeway at the same time the cavalcade was going by in the opposite direction.

But the worst of all things I experienced was the earthquake on January 17, 1994. I was awakened at 4:30 in the morning with the bed going up and down like a bucking bronco. My niece from Phoenix, her eight year old daughter and her eighty-two year old grandmother were visiting us. My son was sleeping on the couch in the living room and was thrown onto the floor. I was concerned about the grandmother in the next room sleeping right beside a big window. It was difficult to stand up and walk straight to get into the bedroom next to me where she was. We had a wheelchair for her, but it was out in the garage. She had difficulty walking but we finally got her onto an desk chair with wheels and pushed her into the living room where the rest of us had gathered.

Miraculously when we turned on the TV it was still working, but only for a few seconds. A technician had been shoved in front of the camera because there was no one else there and he was very “rattled” and upset. He tried to relay what was happening but things were shaking all around him and then we lost power. My son went out to his car in the garage and turned the radio on until we finally found a radio in the house that had batteries in it. Because it was growing cold we all covered up with blankets and sat huddled in the living room listening to it. As each report came in the enormity of what happened began to dawn on us. Actually there was no damage done to our house. Some friends of ours in the next town didn’t fare so well. My son knew the parents were out of town and the four children were alone so he went to check on them. The oldest was eighteen and the youngest four. Their house was a disaster but no one was hurt.

The effects of this earthquake lasted for months. To begin with there were the aftershocks, in themselves as scary as another earthquake. Driving around the San Fernando Valley it looked like a war zone. People were living on their front lawns, afraid to be inside their houses in case of another strong quake, or in National Guard tents set up in city parks. It was cold and rainy. Those whose houses were okay didn’t have heat or electricity. Food and water were scarce. Most businesses were shut.

I had been going into homes teaching music lessons and after a couple of weeks I decided to start teaching again. One of my students had lost her piano totally – the brick chimney had fallen on it and smashed it. Another student had a large aquarium fall onto the piano spilling water and fish all over the piano and smashing the bench. Another one’s house was very close to the epicenter and after seeing it I was afraid to go into house every time I went back there to give lessons. The walls were cracked everywhere and all the tiles had fallen off the wall over the fireplace.

The church in Hollywood where I was the organist was pretty badly damaged structurally and also lost some stained glass windows.

One preschool where I worked consisted of two separate buildings, one around the corner from the other on a different street. They were very close – it probably took less than a minute to walk from one to the other. One building was not even damaged; the other was completely destroyed. A few hours later and it would have been filled with children and teachers.

The office where my son worked was a disaster area. He and his coworkers were only allowed back in for a few minutes to get important papers. Computers were everywhere, lights were down on the floor, bookcases overturned and there was much damage to the walls and ceilings. It was also within a short distance from the epicenter. I am so thankful that no one was in the office at the time. There were no people in any of the offices because it was so early in the morning. Here again, a few hours later and the results of that earthquake would have been horrible. All in all, it was an experience I will never forget.

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