The Daily News newsroom in Woodland Hills after the Jan. 17, 1994 earthquake. DN file photo.
The Northridge earthquake struck at 4:31 in the morning on January 17, 1994 — instantly waking up almost everybody in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, while also blanketing much of the city in darkness and knocking out most phone service. When the sun rose a couple of hours later, a lot of things looked normal at first, but of course the reality was anything but usual. Apartment houses in the Valley had collapsed onto their first floors, crushing people and cars. Medical buildings and concrete parking structures had failed — their ends fell off or they simply bent over onto themselves. The Santa Monica Freeway pavement had snapped in Mid-City, the I-5 freeway in Newhall Pass. Streets had cracked and there were hundreds of scattered fires. Thousands of people fled their homes and stayed outside through the scary aftershocks. Chimneys were down all over the place. Schools and most businesses failed to open that day. Due to the luck of timing, classrooms were empty when the quake struck, or else we would be talking about this anniversary much more somberly. As it was, at least 57 people died, maybe more depending on who's counting.
Twenty years ago the web was not a major factor in communications or the reporting of news. The LA Times Valley Edition and the Daily News both had trashed newsrooms in the Valley; the Times at least had the downtown newsroom to use. Michael Anastasi, the current executive editor of all the Los Angeles New Group papers, which includes the Daily News, recalls in a Sunday piece just how difficult that day was. He lived in Northridge and writes that he will never forget the sound.
I have tried many times to describe that sound, that awesome and terrible rumble that jolted all of us in the San Fernando Valley awake so very early that chilly winter morning. I’ve never quite found the words to accurately describe it, though I can still hear it in my mind, and others who experienced it nod their heads anyway as I struggle to recount it.
They know, and they won’t forget it either....
I wandered outside of my apartment, in the dark, and stood on the sidewalk, among dozens of neighbors I had never met. A man ran by, terrified and naked, illuminated by a gas plume blazing a block away.
A small team of volunteers crept through our severely damaged newsroom and production room, retrieving critical equipment and supplies despite concerns of a structural failure. In that earlier computer period, the Daily News Page One nameplate was something physical, not an electronic file. In order to publish — and Bob Burdick, the Daily News editor at that time, made it clear we were going to publish — we needed that nameplate, the masthead, column logos, camera film and many other tools that have since become obsolete.
Anastasi's role that day was to take dictation from reporters in a borrowed office in Santa Monica. He remembers heading home after the long day and cresting Sepulveda Pass on the 405, where the Valley lights usually fill the windshield. "I will never forget the sight," he says. "Pitch black."
The LANG papers have a quake anniversary package up. Here's Dana Bartholomew's mainbar and a gallery of Daily News photographs. If you weren't around here then, take a look and see what possibly awaits the next time. Northridge was officially a 6.7 earthquake and caused billions in damage and lost wealth. It's the largest quake to break under the city of Los Angeles, but there have been 11 stronger quakes in California since 1925.
“The thing we need to understand,” says Lucy Jones, the USGS quake expert, “is that Northridge was really not a big earthquake. Northridge is a moderate to large earthquake. We have the potential for much larger and much more damaging quake.”
More media coverage:
Are quakes the price Californians pay for paradise? KPCC
CBS 2 ran a special Sunday night with anchors Pat Harvey and Paul Magers.