San Fernando Earthquake 1971

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.

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8 Responses to “San Fernando Earthquake 1971”

  1. "California Girl's" Says:

    Boy, that brings back memories. I remember being woken up that morning. It was SO scary. Cheryl and I were asleep in the back bedroom. I still think the one in January 1994 was worse. But, like you said, it was the first bad one that I remember. I was in the 9th grade. You must have been a senior in high school at the time.

    • Renee Sohns Says:

      I remember that too. I was 12 at the time, we lived on pear wood ave, my twin sister and I never been thou that before… moved to oklahoma but guess what we had a 5.8 back in 2012… never thought that would happen here for sure we get tornados here, Renee

  2. Rick Thomas Says:

    I was there!

  3. someone Says:

    guess wat…

    i wasn’t lol

  4. Margo Hebald, Architect Says:

    Look at the photo of the collapsed freeway. Cars were actually thrown off the elevated freeways.

    I still do not understand why people want to build mass transist above ground in Southern California; or even consider monorails. In every large California earthquake, the freeways have come down.

    However, in Mexico City and San Francisco, when they had a large earthquake, the subways were safe and not damaged.

    What goes up, comes down.

  5. Limousine Service San Jose Says:

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  6. Texas native Says:

    I was there too, having only lived in LAX a very short time. It rattled our apartment building in Hollywood ’til we thought it was going to shake right into the ground. It was undoubtedly the longest minute i had ever experienced, and one minute that I actually ‘felt’ every single second!

    We were recent transplants from Texas — we came from tornado country, which is scary enough, earthquakes and aftershocks are the worst!!!

    • Renee Sohns Says:

      I too was there, we lived in san fernando sylmar I was 12 and my twin sister never been thou that, so we moved back to oklahoma, like you said tornado here… I would rather be in a tornado than earthquakes any time… you have warnings… tks renee just had to say some thing been a very long time Indeed i will never forget it, p.s. we had a 5.8 here last yr lol thought it didnt happen here

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