The story below is not intended to be compared in any way to the magnitude of what Japan has experienced with their current disasters. Just a little memory from a scared little girl.
We lived in town called Granada Hills, which is only a few miles from the epicenter of the 1971 Sylmar earthquake. For those who do not live in California, we now receive regular education on earthquake preparedness. We buy putty in bulk to keep knick-knacks from falling, bolt our furniture to the walls and are speedy-quick at diving under a desk for safety. Back in 1971, we did not have this type of information or training so as a young child I was completely unaware of the existence of earthquakes.
It was just before 6:00 in the morning on February 9, 1971. My Siamese cat, Sam started frantically clawing on the side of my mattress. I could not imagine why he was acting so strangely and was sure that it was way too early to get up for school. I had no idea that in a few seconds, the San Fernando Fault was about to produce a 6.6 earthquake. When the earth first started to shake, I thought it was Sam jumping on the bed. The motion increased dramatically and I could hear my parents screaming. I soon figured out that it was not the cat. I watched as the bedroom shutters flapped opened and closed and items on my dresser and from my closet were flying through the room. With my simple words, I cannot adequately describe to you the sound of an earthquake rumbling or the cracking of the structure you have always known as your place of safety.
The quake itself probably only lasted about 30 seconds but it seemed like life was suddenly in slow motion and the shaking was continuing for hours. When the earth stopped moving, I heard my Dad get up and slowly walk from room to room and shout out the status of the destruction. Our home was quite damaged.
The families in our neighborhood congregated in the middle of the street to make sure everyone was okay and accounted for. With no electricity, we all huddled around a little transistor radio to get updates about what was going on. Reports began circling that the Van Norman Dam, a large reservoir located above our housing track, cracked in the quake. The authorities were considering a full evacuation of our neighborhood in case the dam ruptured.
With that news, my bestie, Shelly and I decided to “team pack” our bags for the evacuation. We went to her home first and I helped as she carefully pondered and selected each item. After she completed her packing, we started across the street to get my things together. Suddenly a helicopter flew over our homes with loud speakers ordering an immediate evacuation. Police cars drove up and down the street with the same announcement.
That ended the “team packing” plan and I darted back to my house, grabbed anything I could get my hands on and shoved it all in my small bag. I later figured out that panic is not the best planning tool because I packed no underwear, jammies that were two sizes too small and no shoes. Mom brought a dozen pair of high heel shoes, several coats but no clothes. My folks frantically threw pictures and important papers in the car and told me to get in. I just could not leave without Sam! I searched and called for him but he was nowhere to be found. As the helicopters continued flying over with their instructions, my folks told me we could not stay and look for my kitty. I clearly remember getting in that car with tears streaming down my face. I was so scared to think that if the dam burst, my house would be gone and I would never find my constant companion, Sam.
We went to the local fairgrounds and quickly assessed that with so many evacuees, there was a high probability that we would not have a place to stay. My Dad stood in line for over two hours waiting for the one pay phone that was available. We were able to contact a family friend and stayed with her for a full week. The authorities allowed residents into the area for short visits and the neighbors took turns leaving food out for all of the animals. Sam was okay!!
My heart is breaking for the people there, especially for the children. I recently watched some footage of a young girl watching her town swept away with water and she was crying and clinging to her mom. I can understand the fear and helplessness behind her little face and I am keeping in constant prayer for her and every person affected by these disasters.