Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Twentieth anniversary of Northridge earthquake

As part of the opening to Debate, endorsements, and a poll from KPBS in San Diego, I observed in passing that yesterday (at least here in Michigan) is a holiday.  I made no further mention of the day, which is odd, because I stated in Happy Festivus! that I love holidays, including fake ones.  I realized that I should have posted something about Martin Luther King Day, at least as much as last year, when it was combined with Obama's Inauguration.  Today, I'll mark the occasion by describing my most vivid memory about the holiday, which ironically has nothing to do with the intended meaning of the day.  Instead, it's about experiencing the Northridge earthquake from afar through television, a story I tell my students.

Before our daughter was born, my ex-wife and I had agreed that I would take the second feeding of the night, which means that she was bottle-fed.  After several years, that meant that I was in charge of my daughter's breakfast.  On the morning of MLK Day, my daughter woke me up by saying "Daddy, I'm hungry."  So I got up, prepared her breakfast, sat her down in front of the TV in the basement, and then put one of her favorite Disney tapes, which was either "Sleeping Beauty" or "Cinderella," I forget which.  Just before the tape started running, I saw the announcement on Good Morning America that there had been an earthquake in Los Angeles.  "Yeah, yeah, what else is new," I thought.  Then the movie started and I lay down on the couch to sleep.  After all, it was a holiday, and I didn't have to go to school or work.  When I woke up, Regis and Cathy Lee were not on, as I expected, but news coverage.  I recognized immediately  that this was a bad thing.  The last time I saw news instead of the mid-morning show was when the Challenger exploded.  I grew even more horrified when it was about the earthquake and the location shots were all of places I knew and had been.  There was damage at the university I had attended before I moved,* damage to the apartments my sister had lived in, damage to the mall where I had shopped.  I may have been 2,000 miles and five years away, but it still struck close to home.

I could go on, but I'll let Peter Jennings and the ABC Evening News do the showing instead of me doing the telling in 1/17/94 1st Segment of "ABC World News Tonight" Northridge Quake.

Peter Jennings hopped a plane and made it to Northridge--the scene of the earthquake that occurred on January 17, 1994 at 6.7 magnitude. It caused an estimated $20 billion in damage with reported damage reported up to 85 miles away. The "official" death toll was placed at 57. Thirty three people died immediately or within a few days from injuries sustained in the earthquake, and many died from indirect causes, such as stress-induced cardiac events. Some counts factor in related events such as a man's suicide possibly inspired by the loss of his business in the disaster.
It was worse than I remembered.  Good thing it happened before dawn on a holiday.  As Jennings mentions, the death toll would have been far higher during normal business hours.**

Follow over the jump for more on the anniversary, which ends in California in an hour and a half, from LiveScience.

Becky Oskin of LiveScience recaps the facts and asks an important question in Hellish Northridge Earthquake: Is Los Angeles Safer 20 Years Later?
Roaring like a freight train from hell, the Northridge earthquake threw sleeping Angelenos from their beds at 4:31 a.m. on Jan. 17, 1994.

The earthquake's shaking was stronger than the force of gravity, lifting furniture off the floor and buildings off their foundations. Los Angeles firefighters watched their massive fire trucks hop across a station garage in time with the seismic waves.

At least 57 people died and nearly 9,000 people were injured. Some 82,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed. Seven freeway bridges collapsed. With more than $40 billion in property and economic losses, Northridge was one of the most expensive natural disasters in U.S. history.
LiveScience has even more photos of the damage in Northridge Earthquake: 20th Anniversary in Photos.  In addition to the facts about the quake itself, the text accompanying the slideshow points out that California may not be prepared for the next one.
In the past 20 years, geologists have probed the Earth's crust beneath Los Angeles, creating detailed maps and computer simulations that predict where the worst damage will occur when the next big earthquake hits this metropolis. But there is still more to be done before the "Big One," as Californians call it, such as retrofitting buildings to meet seismic codes enacted after the Northridge earthquake.
Drought and water shortages are not the only problems in California I'm happy to observe from afar.

*The same one that served as Star Fleet Academy in the Star Trek movie.

**The conclusion of the clip shows how history repeats itself.  Twenty years ago was the last time a polar vortex visited record low temperatures on the eastern half of the country.  Also, the very end reminds me that the Winter Olympics are coming up next month.  In a blog about the possible end of civilization, it's nice to be reminded of continuity.  On a more practical note, I might just show it to my students to cap off my earthquake war stories--that, or this clip of that night's Nightline segment instead.

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