The 6.7 Northridge quake struck Southern California 30 years ago at 4:30 am on January 17, 1994. It killed 60 people, injured 8,000, and destroyed dozens of structures, including a vital crossing over the freeway 10.
The walls of my bedroom shook as if they were paper during a storm, and I could hear the earth rumbling as things were thrown on the floor.
It took me a few moments to figure out what was happening since most people were sleeping at that time. Was there a conflict? Were we bombed recently?
It seemed like it lasted forever, but only 20 seconds.
I lived in West Hollywood, a city in LA. My girlfriend, who is now my wife, and myself went out onto the porch once we realized that we were still alive. We saw the Los Angeles skyline in darkness, except for the fires and the terrifying green transformer explosions. The shaking of the buildings and dust clouds that were thrown into the air by them caused the city to look dark.
The most dystopian scenario I’ve ever seen.
We quickly filled the bath, grabbed our dog, and ran up the stairs because the building was shaking like a boat on rough seas.
The damage was severe. Check out the site where the 10 Freeway collapsed near Fairfax Avenue. The only black and white film I had in my camera was the one we used:
The morning jolt, and the days that followed, are forever etched in my mind. I sleep now with my shoes and clothes right beside the bed. There’s also a flashlight and extra water at hand.
It may have been the catalyst for my wife and me to get married. We were young, had not been together for that long and neither of us thought long-term. Two things happened.
As the huge wave hit I instinctively covered her, even though I wasn’t fully awake and didn’t know what was happening. My closet’s mirrored doors were moving around and I knew they would break (which is what happened).
But I don’t think I’m a hero. Many other people would’ve done the same thing. Let’s face it, my efforts to protect the building would have been useless if it had collapsed.
The symbolism was important, I believe, and we became closer by enduring the quake together and the aftermath. The second reason is that we became more aware of our mortality and the fact that life has a clock. Two young, carefree people went to bed that night without really considering the future. But over the following days, we became a couple who shared a greater sense of reality.
Dust covered the horizon as the sun rose the following morning:
We didn’t talk about it, but we felt the feelings. It wasn’t long before I was on my knees, at the bottom (we were diving) of the sea, and asked for forgiveness.
I thought she would either drown or say yes. I hoped for the latter.
Northridge is a part of me and many Californians are still startled when a large truck passes by. We’re always wondering if it will happen again. Since that fateful day, there have been several quakes, but nothing has shaken our world like that one. It was truly indescribable.
I know my wife and I had a lucky escape, but many others were not so fortunate and suffered the temblor. They are in my heart.
After all these years, the 30th anniversary reminds me to not be lazy. It’s time to restock the go-bag and ensure we are as prepared as possible in case history repeats itself.
It will, and the only question that remains is when.