Northridge Earthquake Anniversary: Remember the quake? KPCC listeners share their stories

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The L.A. Riots. JFK's assassination. 9/11. For many, these are unforgettable moments in history, and the details remain vivid even decades later. For Southern Californians, the Northridge Earthquake is one of those momentous events. 

On the morning of Jan. 17, 1994 —20 years ago today — a 6.7-magnitude earthquake centered in Northridge hit the Los Angeles area, collapsing several buildings, destroying stretches of freeways, and sparking several fires in the area. But you probably already know this. 

Where were you during the Northridge Earthquake? That's the questions we asked KPCC listeners through our Public Insight Network and on social media as a part of our 20th anniversary coverage. 

Find a collection of memories and reflections below. Share yours in the comments or here

"A giant monster" hits SoCal

Photo: U.S. Vice President Al Gore is hugged by Giovanni Roberto outside the storekeeper's deli restaurant in Northridge, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 1994. Gore toured businesses damaged by the earthquake. Roberto kept his establishment open, serving food to the community whose homes were damaged or destroyed. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac)

Craig Bobchin had just finished writing a chapter of his book and started to fall asleep at his
Fullerton apartment when the rattling began. 

"As soon as the quake hit, I jumped out of bed and into the bedroom doorway, but by then the quake was over. ... Needless to say, I did not get any sleep that night," he wrote to us. 

Bobchin was not alone in experiencing a sleepless night. But others recall a more intense and scary scenario, mentioning the series of aftershocks. 

Evelyn Meyer remembers her "house shaking violently, for what seemed like an eternity."

Heather Llewellyn says she heard "a tremendously loud explosion as a nearby gas line blew."

And L.A. City Planning Commissioner Filiberto Gonzalez says: "At its worse, it felt like a giant monster had picked up our two-story building to shake loose the people who were inside." 

RELATED: Calif. quake early warning system runs on a shoe-string budget

What's less pleasant than a giant monster messing with your house? "Driving to the hospital and passing houses fully engulfed in flames" — while in labor, says Kathleen Wiacek.

When Wiacek finally made it to the Northridge hospital, she sat in the parking lot with other pregnant women until it was safe to go inside. And just three hours after giving birth that same day, she was sent home. "Two orderlies basically carried me down five flights of stairs," she wrote to us. 

The aftermath: "I survived the 1994 earthquake"

Photo: California State University, Northridge, students walk by a parking structure that was heavily damaged on the CSUN campus in the Jan. 17 earthquake. The students return to classes on Monday, Feb. 14, 1994, one month after the earthquake. (AP photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Correction: An earlier version of this story identified this campus as the University of California, Northridge.

Displaced families, crowded pay phones, highway detours, fiery streets and naked bodies. It was all a part of the aftermath in the hours following the Northridge earthquake, dubbed the "longest night ever" by the L.A Times

Jacqueline Cerniglia remembers a sleepover in her family's 1990 red Suburban, where she ate warm milk with Cheerios. She wasn't allowed to go into the kitchen because it was "covered in sticky syrup" — and her parents told her stories of people running out of their houses naked. 

Heather Llewellyn congregated with neighbors while waiting in line at a local pay phone. (Could you imagine?) Her apartment building was yellow flagged so she moved in with a friend. 

RELATED: Digital dependence makes us vulnerable in quake

Not surprisingly, some folks quickly realized they could bank on the catastrophe: Cerniglia says she witnessed people outside selling T-shirts that read  "I survived 1994 earthquake."

Michael O'Malley vividly remembers seeing a "soup of food items and glass all over the floor" in his kitchen. 

"The first aftershock happened and I walked out to the back yard to see all of the cinderblock walls around the property line fall," he writes.

School wasn't in session at California State University, Northridge, writes Gonzalez, yet more than 50 students — in pajamas and wrapped in blankets — poured onto Darby Street. 

Others recall the subsequent damage on campus: Trailers were brought in so that students could attend classes while UCLA offered its libraries and shuttle services. Many apartments were red tagged and students applied for aid through FEMA and Red Cross. 

Are we ready for another one? Some say no. 

Photo: Ray Hudson reacts as a friend's home goes up in flames at the Oak Ridge Trailer Park in Sylmar, Calif., after a major earthquake hit the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles in this Jan. 17, 1994. (AP Photo/Douglas C Pizac)

Photo: Cars lie smashed by the collapsed Interstate 5 connector few hours after Northridge earthquake, on Jan. 17, 1994, in Sylmar. (Getty Images photo/Jonathan Nourok)

In the 1994 quake, freeways and buildings collapsed. Houses burned to the ground. At least 57 people died, and 125,000 were left homeless. 

Even so, some folks say we haven't prepared for the next one. 

"I am not prepared and worry that my family wouldn't even know what to do since my children are too young and my husband has never felt one," writes Theresa Patten-Koeckert. 

Kathleen Wiacek anticipates a lack of resources: "The biggest problem we had was access to clean, potable water. Not sure how that has improved in past 20 years." 

And Craig Bobchin is nervous about our reliance on technology: "We rely too much on cell phones and Internet-based communications. In a major quake, these things are likely to be disrupted and non-functional." 

Juan Vargas concludes: "I don't think we can ever anticipate the utter destruction that Mother Nature is capable of inflicting on us." 

RELATED:  Despite retrofits, are homes any safer now? 

Nonetheless, several folks did tell us they feel safer now. 

Xach Fromson thinks our current infrastructure is more secure than it was in 1994. 

"I trust that the electric grid is more stable than 20 years ago," he writes. "Also, having been through a number of smaller earthquakes, I feel like those of us who have lived in L.A. long enough have a built-in response to the quakes that is more than simply sheer panic." 

Ditch the waterbed — and other ways we prepare 

Photo: California National Guardsman Sgt. David Valenzuela, stands guard over the corner of Sherman Way and Reseda in the San Fernando Valley area  of Los Angeles in the early morning of Jan. 18, 1994. The area was heavily damaged by Monday's earthquake which measured 6.6 on the Richter scale. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

Sandra Henry was sleeping in a brand new Cal King waterbed when the Northridge Earthquake struck. That didn't end well. 

"My crystal collection shattered into the bed, and the waterbed exploded," she writes. "My apartment was a two-story loft, and the water from the broken toilet upstairs and the waterbed ruined the floor/living room ceiling."

Doug Millhoff also took away a few valuable lessons from the quake. "I keep several jugs of purified water around and have bolted bookshelves to the wall," he writes. 

RELATED: Debunking 8 common earthquake myths

Kathy Brennan always keeps blankets and walking shoes in her car — and Hayley Waters stashes supplies inside and outside of her home. Plus, she has bags in her trunk with extra shoes, a jacket, and some emergency cash. 

Flashlights, canned food and first aid materials are in Xach Fromson's home. 

"I also have a go-bag in my car with fresh clothes and toiletries so that I can at least have something with me if I'm caught away from home," he writes. 

Listen to Southern Californians remember the quake

What are your memories of the 1994 earthquake? Have you created an earthquake kit since then? Do you feel safer now? Share your thoughts with us via the Public Insight Network, comments, on Facebook or Twitter.

This is one in a weeklong series of stories on KPCC leading up to Friday's 20th anniversary of the devastating 1994 Northridge Earthquake. The series will explore the quake's history, its effects and its legacy. You can view more stories on our Northridge Anniversary page.  Let us know what you think in the comments below.

Where were you during the Northridge earthquake? 

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