Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sunday Random: Happy Birthday Northridge Earthquake

What do you remember?

I don't remember much, partially because I spend so much time carefully planning my next steps that I forget about the past. I find it more important to structuralize the future than to dwell on the past. Few things gleam in my mind so vividly as if they were only yesterday. 16 years ago today, at 4:31 in the morning, an earthquake hit and shook up the valley.

The night before we were at Loves for my mom's birthday. She had ribs. My dad, sister and I got the buffet court. I remember they had the best lunch buffet because they had deli meats and you could make these sandwiches. I remember drinking iced tea out of Mason jars. They were doing drinks in jars long before anyone else was. They had these fish tanks in the back section that made no sense considering it was a BBQ restaurant for the most part. When we got home, we went to bed as it was late. My dad was getting ready to go fishing the next morning. He was going to go to Sespe Creek out in Ojai. We used to go fishing there every weekend as kids if we weren't going to Lake Piru. He had his fishing gear in the kitchen on the floor in front of the sink. He was always notorious for over packing when it came to fishing. He still does it today, in addition to over complicating his rigging set ups. He used to keep his keys and wallet in his mail man cap in the hall way closet in front of our room on the second shelf from the top. He had all sorts of random things in that closet, as did we. It was kind of like the home for lost soul items that had no place or belonging anywhere else in the house. The closet door was open as he was going back and forth from the stretch of house from garage, kitchen, hallway, and bathroom.

No one saw it coming. It came out of nowhere and hit like a freight train into a brick wall. The ground exploded into a vicious jolt, zig zagging up and down from north to south. I only remember this because the head of my bed faced the east and it was like being rocked in a cradle by a hand working ever so violently to have you thrown out. The earth rumbled so loudly, we couldn't hear the sounds of glass shattering or doors knocking into walls. All that was heard was growling of an angry earth. The shaking felt like it lasted forever and started to lull down to a dulled rolling before quickly changing it's mind and going back to a momentary violent jolt or two and then back to the rolling. By that point, the rumbling sounds were gone and all that was left were car alarms, jingling of fan pull-chords and the world was left in the dark.

My parents ran to get us out of our room. We were trapped by the mess of three shelves of nick-knacks that broke at the foot of our doorway and the contents of the closet outside of it in the hallway. It only took my parents a matter of seconds to force all the clutter back into the closet with one hefty shove on the door to clear way to our room. At that point, we all made our way to the front porch and made sure everyone was alright. In all honesty, there's a weird period between getting out of our room and the time we got into the car that I don't remember. For instance, I don't know if I had clothes or shoes on and I don't remember getting a jacket or anything like that, but I remember driving around in our station wagon to my grandparent's house a mile away to check up on them. I don't remember ever getting out of the car, but I might have. They were ok and their house wasn't too badly damaged as they lived further from the epicenter than we did.

I remember driving a few blocks around the valley and seeing a busted gas line right next to a busted fire hydrant. Streams of flames and water shot into the air side by side as if fighting for who got to be the center of attention raining down what looked like raindrops with flaming tails. There was then a period I forgot, maybe we fell asleep in the back of the car, or in our seats, I don't remember. I remember the sun coming up that day and having never wanted to see daylight so badly in my life as the temporary blindness from the several downed power lines made the streets feel eerier than usual. I do remember how I had never seen so many stars in my lifetime, ever, than after the blackouts. It was like the earthquake had lifted the earth closer to the Heavens so for one moment we could stop our hustle and bustle of daily life to realize we were still nothing more than fragile creatures at God's will and he had the power to destroy us just as he created us. At the same time, huge clouds of dust rose from the ground making it harder to see anything and creating a fake fog effect.

Later in the day, the aftershocks continued. People chose to show their dark sides instead of brotherly good nature and looted for milk and water instead of helping others find their way out of their homes or make sure pets were ok. There were several dogs and cats dead in the road, hit by cars. Not too far from our house was a Kaiser building that must have been ten or thirteen stories that had lost it's entire west wall that cascaded like a waterfall of bricks and glass down onto the street. The second story of an apartment building flattened to the first floor, killing the people who lived in the units below. I remember standing outside during several aftershocks being able to see the ground around me rolling under my feet. I feared trees would be thrown out of the ground but then someone went over why it wouldn't happen. I still question it, though. It seemed like days had gone by with that feeling of getting off a boat where the world was constantly moving below me. Maybe it did, maybe it didn't.

Our house got a yellow tag and we were a few violations short of having to be evicted to the Tent City at Reseda Park. Fortunately, they were minor repairs that we were able to get most of them taken care of that day, and later in the week and a few more long term as they were costlier. Fortunately, we did get some FEMA money to help with that. In the end, the entire contents of our kitchen cabinets; food, dishes, cooking supplies and sorts, were broken on the kitchen floor. The big ceramic pot of a hanging plant in the kitchen broke onto the floor leaving a plant hanging for dear life in the macrame hanger spilling dirt onto the broken shards of pot below. Our water heater broke. Our piano broke. My mom's hutch cupboard fell over and most of the nick-knacks broke. Ceiling fans were hanging from wires and support bars designed specifically for earthquake safety as they detached from the ceilings. Surprisingly, there were a lot of things that didn't break. We did lose a few windows and our block wall in the back yard came tumbling down.

Most people weren't working for days after as aftershocks almost as big as the original would strike at random. Of course the surprising thing was how many parents brought their kids to my mom's daycare the Monday directly after the earthquake. We didn't go back to school for at least a week. I remember in my English class, my teacher, Mrs. Minster, was talking about post traumatic stress and how some of us might have it and if we needed to talk to talk and as if cued by some sort of ironic twist of fate, an aftershock hit right in the middle of her speech.

Every year I always look back nostalgically at the earthquake, not in the sense I long to experience it again, but in the sense I can say I lived through a natural disaster. We lived about a mile away from the epicenter. We were hit pretty hard. Not as hard as those who lived closer to it, but we did get hit pretty hard. It was a few days before we had simple things like electricity and gas and I know I was afraid of sleeping in my room for a while. I still will sleep with a blanket over me to this day, even in summer, for fear that if there is an earthquake, I will have something to protect me from whatever falls from above. It seems like it was only yesterday, but in fact, it was 16 years ago. How did it get so far away? Why do I remember it so well? Happy birthday, Northridge Quake. Did anyone ever decide the true magnitude of it? Does anyone remember the cheezy swap meet "I Survived The Northridge Quake" shirts that popped up within days after the quake? Part of me wants one now...

1 comment:

Sirinya said...

I was out of the country when the quake occurred, so I actually missed the shaking. We watched the CNN coverage for what felt like 12 hours, worried that our then 75-year-old rental had toppled like that apartment building in Northridge. When we got home two weeks later, we saw that the damage was substantial but not irreparable. Thank you for sharing your experience withe 94 quake.