Sunday, January 17, 2016

22nd Anniversary of the 6.7 Northridge earthquake - Mary Cummins, real estate appraiser Los Angeles, California

22nd anniversary of the 6.7 Northridge earthquake January 17, 1994

January 13, 2014 at 11:29am
5 to 14 freeway collapse5 to 14 freeway collapse
The Northridge quake struck at 4:31 a.m. January 17, 1994. It instantly knocked out power and phone service across most of Los Angeles plunging the area into total darkness. The sun would not rise for another two and a half hours as people tried to access the damage. Only when the sun came up did people finally realize the massive destruction.

I grew up in Los Angeles and lived through the 6.6 magnitude 1971 San Fernando/Sylmar and the 6.9 1989 Loma Prieta earthquakes. I was six when the '71 quake hit and remember toys falling off shelves. I actually thought that quake was fun. My Nana who raised me did not. She grabbed her makeup and wig case, ran to her Lincoln Continental and refused to come back into the house until the next day.

When the '89 quake hit I was living in a house in the flats of West Hollywood near the Pacific Design Center. The epicenter of that quake was San Francisco. Even though it was far away it was still a violent quake in LA. The pool had huge tsunamis which tossed 1/3 of the water out of the pool and into my neighbor's driveway. The illegal unpermitted addition cracked off the main house and I could see the sky. Some ugly glass knick knacks I'd received as gifts from family members fell and broke on the floor. Oh well.

Then the '94 quake hit Los Angeles. I lived in a condo at 906 N Doheny Dr in West Hollywood just south of Sunset Blvd at the time. I was dead asleep in bed with my two cats when there was an instant jolt then everything started shaking from side to side. While it was only a 6.7 magnitude it was the "fastest" quake on record and very shallow making it feel stronger and causing more damage.

Eskimos have many different words for types of snow. Californians have many different words for types of earthquakes. This quake wasn't a slow deep easy rolling quake like most. It was a violent shallow boom then hard side to side shaking. Instantly pictures flew off walls, glasses walked off the shelves in the bar, cabinet doors flung open, book cases toppled over. I knew the building I was in survived the two previous big quakes so I wasn't worried. I got up mid quake to close the bedroom door so the cats wouldn't run into the living room and step on all the broken glass.

West Hollywood is made up of many people from other parts of the country who are drawn to the area for its gay lifestyle. Yes, many gay men who'd never experienced a quake before were screaming like little girls and hugging each other in the hallways and courtyard. As a native who grew up with earthquakes it is amusing to see non-natives scream during moderate quakes. My terrified neighbors ended up camping in the center courtyard for three days refusing to go back into their condos.

I had appraisals planned for the next day but the phones were out so I couldn't confirm. I didn't know how bad the quake was as I had no radio, TV, internet or cell phone. I got dressed and drove to my first appointment. Driving through Beverly Hills walls were knocked down, chimneys toppled, front facades of commercial buildings fell onto Sunset Blvd and power was still out as were all the street and traffic lights.

I arrived at my first appointment in the hills of Bel Air. That house would later be red tagged. The pool cracked dumping its contents on the neighbor below. The main bearing and exterior walls had major cracks and had shifted. I told the owner that his home was totaled. I wouldn't do the appraisal and would not charge him. He decided to have an impromptu "my home was just destroyed by an earthquake" party with neighbors who broke out the bar at 8:30 a.m. I went to my next appointment.

My next appointment was another totaled home. After five minutes I told them I wouldn't appraise the property or charge them. I told them they should probably start gathering their pets, important personal property to put in their car away from their home in case it collapses. It later collapsed. I hope they listened to my advice.

There were many, many aftershocks. Every time the building started shaking the neighbors would scream hysterically and hug each other in the courtyard. I would just roll my eyes and laugh under my breath in amusement as we weren't in any danger.

My neighbors camped in sleeping bags in the courtyard. Power was also out for three days. We were instructed not to drink the water without boiling it but we had no way to boil it. If you were outside when an aftershock hit, a huge cloud of dust would rise from the ground. Fortunately I gave earthquake kits to all my clients the previous year and still had a few left in my closet which I gave to neighbors and used myself.

I drove my car out of our subterranean parking structure and parked it on the street, just in case. Then I listened to my car radio to try to find out what happened. I read, did yoga, played with the cats, ate the food in my frig. Later I ate the thawed food from my freezer. Fortunately I always have enough cat food and litter to last through any emergency because I'm anal about emergency preparedness.

Not much to do with no power or phone. I decided to go to the gym even though I couldn't call them on the phone to see if they were open. I drove to the Sports Club Los Angeles and the parking gate arm was up. I drove in and there weren't many cars there just some trucks. I went to the door and it was open. Seems the center stairway collapsed and the gym was closed. It was actually closed for three months for repairs. They gave us free passes to go to other gyms in the area.

Finally day three there is limited cell phone service. My friends call to see if I'm still alive and I laugh. It was only a 6.7 and the epicenter was in the valley. It wasn't the "big one." Power is back and I can finally turn on the TV and see the massive destruction. Holy crap! While the freeway collapse was visually epic there was other damage which was not as obvious.

Medical building accordionedMedical building accordioned

A medical building on Olympic accordioned. I think the third or fourth floor just collapsed yet the building still stood. No one was ever allowed back to retrieve anything not even medical records. They demolished it with all contents intact. That is how dangerous it was. Trained people were later allowed to sift through the demolished remains to look for documents.

Hospital collapseHospital collapse

A hotel on Ventura Blvd also sandwiched and lost an entire floor besides part of the front facade falling into the street. Many apartment buildings in the valley just collapsed especially the older ones with open parking under the units. They were poorly designed and built directly on top of an unknown fault line.

Apartments collapsed on carsApartments collapsed on cars

There was major damage to the Los Angeles freeway system which would take months to repair. The 5 to the 14 interchange collapsed in what is the most dramatic evidence of quake damage (see top photo). A motorcycle cop responding to the quake drove off the freeway not realizing it had collapsed because it was dark. He of course died on impact. His dead body is covered by a blue sheet in the top photo. His motorcycle is to the right.

The overpass of the 10 freeway at La Cienega/Venice collapsed. The 118 at Balboa partially collapsed. The 91 to the 405 interchange had damage. In total six bridges collapsed, four others needed to be replaced and there was damage to many other freeways. Most of the damaged bridges were built pre-1971 before they had to be earthquake proof.

After the quake I quake-proofed my picture frames, strapped furniture, altered open shelves and better secured cabinets. The quake seemed to have slightly tipped our condo building down the hill. Doors and windows swung open on the north side but couldn't open on the south side. I had to re-level two doors that wouldn't open, adjust three windows that wouldn't close and putty a lot of cosmetic cracks in the walls. Fortunately I didn't suffer any serious damage though others did not fare as well.

Earthquake maps and building codes would be changed once again as they do after every quake. More retrofitting of older buildings. More regulations for new construction. Liquefaction zones would be better mapped. Earthquake insurance would change forever becoming almost impossible for anyone to find or afford. I would be doing earthquake inspections on every property which was in escrow when the quake hit.

I did a lot of education about earthquake preparedness after this quake. I was shocked that so many people were just not prepared to go a few days without food or water. Below is more information about this quake and some preparedness tips. We will continue to have earthquakes in California. Based on research we are due for the "big one" during the next 100 years. Everyone here in California needs to be quake aware and ready for the next earthquake. It's just a matter of time.

More on the 1994 earthquake

Some earthquake preparedness tips

Mary Cummins of Animal Advocates is a wildlife rehabilitator licensed by the California Department of Fish and Game. Mary Cummins is also a licensed real estate appraiser in Los Angeles, California.

Mary Cummins, Mary K. Cummins, Mary Katherine Cummins, Mary Cummins-Cobb, Mary, Cummins, Cobb, real estate, appraiser, appraisal, instructor, teacher, Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Pasadena, Brentwood, Bel Air, California, licensed, permitted, single family, condo, pud, hud, fannie mae, freddie mac, uspap, certified, residential, certified resident, apartment building, multi-family, commercial, industrial, expert witness, civil, criminal, orea, dre, insurance, bonded, experienced, bilingual, spanish, english, form, 1004, 2055, land, raw, acreage, vacant, insurance, cost, income approach, market analysis, comparative, theory, appraisal theory, cost approach, sales, matched pairs, plot, plat, map, diagram, photo, photographs, photography, rear, front, street, subject, comparable, sold, listed, active, pending, expired, cancelled, listing, mls, multiple listing service, claw, themls,

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