On Tuesday morning, February 9, 1971, at 6:01 a.m., a strong earthquake hit Los Angeles. The San Fernando Earthquake, also know as the Sylmar Earthquake, was 6.6 on the Richter magnitude scale. It was the first strong earthquake I remember. I was getting out of the shower when it began. At first, I thought I was just dizzy, but then the windows started buzzing, and then the house started moving. I stood in the bathroom door way, wrapped in a towel. Normally, earthquakes rumble for a few seconds and then are gone. This time, it kept going and going, for a full minute. I remember thinking that the entire house was going to collapse and I would be standing in the doorway, still wrapped in that towel.
The earthquake caused massive damage. The newly built Olive View Hospital in Sylmar was knocked from its foundation and the first floor collapsed. 49 people died at the VA Hospital in San Fernando. The 5 Freeway collapsed in the Sylmar area, killing several people under it. School was canceled for the rest of the week, so the engineers could determine if the buildings were safe. The cafeteria at my high school was declared unsafe, but then was used for about 20 more years.
I think that the thing that is so unsettling about an earthquake is that it “shakes” your faith in something that you always rely on being solid–the ground. Normally, the ground stays put and the wind blows. When the winds are calm and the ground moves, everything is backwards. It just feels wrong–deep inside somewhere in your mind, everything is upside down. Even though your mind knows what is happening, your body doesn’t want to believe it.
If you are interested in preparing for the next earthquake, the Southern California Earthquake Center has a good publication–Putting Down Roots in Eartquake Country. Click on the title to download it.