By Adam Poulisse, January 11, 2014
The Northridge Fashion Center became one of the symbols of the quake’s
destructiveness. Damage to the mall, built in the early ‘70s, was
estimated at $131 million.
PASADENA >> When the Northridge earthquake struck Southern
California at 4:31 a.m. on Jan. 17, 1994, national attention focused on
the Caltech Seismological Laboratory and the U.S. Geological Society
(USGS) for information and answers.
But when it happened, Ken Hudnut’s attention was on the shaking in the USGS office on Wilson Avenue.
The geophysicist was pulling an all-nighter in his office proofing a scientific journal article on the 1992 Landers earthquake.
when the tremors began from the 6.7-magnitude earthquake along the San
Andreas fault. Hudnut knew nothing about the earthquake at the time,
just that he had to take cover somewhere on the second story of the wood
Get under something sturdy, and hold on, he told himself. Wait it out. He dived under his desk.
the earthquake hit, I don’t remember having the conscious thought, ‘Oh,
this must be a big earthquake.’ I remember knowing right away what to
do,” he said. “I got under my desk. My problem was I knew I had a
computer monitor right above me on the desk that I was underneath.
“I knew I had to get into a tiny, little ball so that the computer
monitor above me didn’t fall on my legs, and I was scared, man,” Hudnut
said. “When you look now in hindsight at the shake map that we recreated
for the Northridge earthquake, I was just in the yellow zone in
Pasadena. I was not in the red zone, not by a long shot. I really feel
for the people who were in the San Fernando Valley right on top of the
Northridge earthquake, because what I experienced was really scary. The
people over there had a very traumatic experience.”
The earthquake killed 57 people and injured countless others. It caused $40 billion in damage.
was far enough off the San Andreas fault where it was not as affected
as other areas of the Los Angeles County. Pasadena experienced “moderate
to strong” shaking, but light damage, according to the California
Integrated Seismic Network’s Northridge ShakeMap released in 2007.
lot of chimneys were knocked down in Pasadena, and there were cracks in
stucco,” said Kate Hutton, staff seismologist at Caltech’s
Seismological Laboratory. “There wasn’t heavy structure damage from the
Northridge quake, mainly because of the distance (from the epicenter).”
Reseda experienced violent or extreme shaking and heavy damage since it was so close to the epicenter.
Pasadena was spared extensive damage, it was easier for media to
descend upon Caltech, swarming the Seismology Lab for days, even weeks,
waiting for answers to relay to people about the quake.
not chaotic, it was very well planned,” said Margaret Vinci, manager of
Earthquake Programs at Caltech. “We learned from the Northridge quake.
Now we have security come, so the minute there’s an earthquake, security
comes and they secure the doors just to keep order.”
Local pizza places like Domino’s delivered free food to media
members stationed outside of Caltech during the days following the
At its closest point, the San Andreas fault lies about 60 miles north
of Pasadena and is south of Palmdale. However, nothing can protect the
city from the widespread effects, such as utilities being knocked out
near the epicenter.
“Although Pasadena won’t experience the San
Andreas rupture as if it’s right in our backyard, we will be affected by
all the devastation that happens,” said Kate Scharer, resident
geologist at USGS. “The trick for Pasadena is that if you have a major
rupture, basically all of the infrastructure that goes through the San
Fernando Valley would be lost.”
That includes much of the county’s water supply, Scharer said.
Northridge earthquake struck on Martin Luther King Day weekend, a
three-day federal holiday so many state employees were off. Staff
operated on a skeletal crew for about a day until emergency response
teams could get to Pasadena to clear debris, said Lisa Derderian,
Pasadena Fire Department spokeswoman. In 1994, she was the spokeswoman
for the San Gabriel Valley chapter of the American Red Cross.
While waiting, the community took it upon themselves to keep one another safe while power and utilities were out.
“We saw a lot of neighbors helping neighbors,” Derderian said.
“What I saw is a lot of people checking on their neighbors, which is
what we encourage day to day.”
The earthquake made history as
being the costliest earthquake in the U.S. until Hurricane Katrina in
2005, according to the Earthquake Country Alliance.
though, the 1987 Whittier Narrows 5.9-magnitude earthquake and the 1991
Sierra Madre 5.8-magnitude earthquake caused more damage to Pasadena
than the Northridge quake.
“We had a lot of older brick buildings (damaged), a lot of damage in
Old Town. One of the fire stations had damage on Fair Oaks,” Vinci said
of the 1987 Whittier Narrows earthquake, which caused about $358 million
in the east Los Angeles area, according to the USGS.
As a result, older buildings in the San Gabriel Valley were retrofitted to withstand earthquakes,
go into Old Town, you see pipes going through the outside,” Vinci said.
“Those are all retrofitted as a result of Whittier.”
It was good
timing. In 1991, the Clamshell-Sawpit Canyon fault off the Sierra Madre
fault zone occurred, causing about $40 million in property damage, even
though there was no surface rupture, according to the Southern
California Earthquake Data Center.
Over 20 years, technological
advancements have provided an easier, quicker way to transmit earthquake
data. Hudnut of the USGS works with GPS systems. Now, 92 stations are
using the Internet to stream data faster and process data in real time.
“What we used to take days, or even a week to do after the
Northridge earthquake, we can now do it in minutes or maybe hours,”
Hudnut said. “But we’ve gotten a lot faster at using the GPS data.”
disasters and their anniversaries always rejuvenate people’s sense of
earthquake preparedness, and lessons brought forth by previous
experiences like in 1994.
“What we found is we take so many things
for granted,” Derderian said. “An earthquake is a fear of the unknown.
The big thing is to be prepared. We don’t know where it’s going to be
when it happens.”