Friday, January 17, 2014

Twenty years after Northridge

I planned to write about teen movies today, and I fully intend to do that soon. I just have to get my head on straight first.

There's too much else going on in there right now for me to think about movies.

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Northridge earthquake.


It happened early in the morning. I can honestly say that I don't think I've ever been so scared in my life as I was that day. It sounded like a freight train ran into the side of the house. It felt like the world had picked everything up and shook it.

I grew up in Southern California, lived about five miles from the epicenter. There is a huge crack that ran down the canyon, through the neighborhood, and directly under our house.

I was 16. A senior in high school. Fortunately it didn't hit during the day, or I might not be here, along with a bunch of my classmates. The concrete overhangs collapsed at school. We were out of our school for two months, sharing a schedule with our cross-town rivals.

Part of living in Southern California is living with the reality that an earthquake can strike at any time. We did drills for them, were well trained in what we were supposed to do to stay safe and shielded in the event one hit.

Then the earthquake happened and panic set in. All those years of drills and training went out the door and instinct took over. Just get out of the house. Get out. It was the only thing I could think of. GET OUT NOW.

Oh shit. Oh shit! OH SHIT. OH SHIT!!!!

I couldn't move for a while. I was so scared I couldn't even scream. When I could stand, I was knocked over. The door was jammed shut and I was being pelted with whatever had been on the shelves in my room that had been turned into projectiles.

When it stopped, I met my parents and brother in the hall. Everyone was freaking out. We got down the stairs in the dark, tripped over whatever had fallen, and got to the front door. All the car alarms were going off, but the power was gone.

It was dark. Warm. Just the slightest hint of a breeze.

My Dad was sitting on the driveway, rocking back and forth. My Mom was talking and talking and talking and worrying and worrying and worrying.

We checked on the neighbors to make sure everyone got out, that no one was injured. Everyone gathered on front lawns and wondered what the hell we were going to do. The aftershocks came one after another.

At first light, I went back into the house, against the wishes of my parents. I had to get my brother's medications out. The dust clouds were forming all over the hills, there was smoke in the air from fires, and he needed to breathe.

The debris in the kitchen was thigh high, but I found it all. You don't feel the cuts and scrapes when adrenaline is pumping through your body, you just do it.

We were without power for four days I think, gas for longer. We had no water for over a week, used the pool water in buckets to flush the toilets. We had to boil it for weeks.

The whole house shook with every aftershock. We slept in the car for almost a week. I use the word slept as though I ever actually slept. It was years before I slept soundly again.

The afternoon of the day it happened, I saw one police car drive down the road next to ours. That was it. No one was coming. We had to learn to figure out how to make this work on our own.

It's one hell of a way to learn survival skills, but the things I learned that week have been used many more times since.

Keep bottled water and canned food on hand at all times. Keep flashlights, batteries and a battery powered radio as well. Sleep with shoes next to you. Know where the gas, electricity and water shutoffs are for your home. Have an evacuation plan for your home and a designated meeting place.

That, and try to keep your shit together when it happens.

Good luck with that.

1 comment:

  1. Howdy neighbor. We were in Woodland Hills. I am editing the piece about it now. So much happened on that day for us. I remember the Milky Way. The quiet. The actuality of helping our neighbors.

    It took me years to not jump when I heard a rumble, ie: roofers rolling tar paper installing a new roof, a cement roller driving by...


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