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Remembering the 1971 and 1994 earthquakes

earthquake damage
earthquake damage
Photo by Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images

The weather’s been unseasonably warm these past few days. For those of us with vivid imaginations, we call this earthquake weather. I try not to think about such things, but we’re long overdue for a big one. If it does, I hope it hits in the mid-Pacific, not on the fault that runs through most of Los Angeles. After all, I’ve endured two major earthquakes-one in 1971, and the second one in 1994. It’s not fun. Let’s look back.

It was a quiet weekday morning, Feb. 9, 1971 to be exact. I was baking my buns by the upstairs wall heater, trying to defrost before heading down for breakfast.

I had an early morning electronic music class at North Hollywood High, and I was excited to get to class to compose, when all of a sudden, at 6:05 a.m. our house began to pitch and roll, like a large mound of lava.

My twin sister Teresa came flying out of her bedroom shrieking “We’re all gonna die! We’re all gonna die!” as our 1928 two-story Tudor home began to shudder. I sat still, trying to remain calm. It wasn’t working and I wasn’t sure what to do.

My older brother Jim came out of his room and calmly began to usher us downstairs. Thankfully he had some levity in the situation since my sister and I were basket cases, and my mother was beside herself as well. I watched our upstairs chandelier begin to sway, as we scrambled downstairs before the plaster began to crumble from the vaulted ceiling.

For those of you who remember the 1971 earthquake, or Sylmar Earthquake, it was not a pretty day. Earthquakes are the norm in Los Angeles, but this was my first big one, and I assumed our house would be leveled with us inside of it.

Thankfully, we didn’t live in Sylmar, and our home didn’t undergo too much stress, aside from some cosmetic damage, but it was enough of a wake-up call to remind me to say some goodbyes, hellos and say “I love you,” in case the worst was yet to come.

I remember walking down Laurel Canyon with Teresa afterwards, and we could feel a number of aftershocks that day. Each one gave us a start, and being rather high strung, it was hard for me to take these tremors lightly. Structures in other parts of the valley had far greater damage than our home, and I was thankful that we weren’t crushed by plaster, exploding windows or deep crevices in the asphalt.

Fast forward to1994, and another earthquake reminded us that nature always wins. We were up in a small motel in Mussel Shoals near Santa Barbara when that earthquake hit. It was about 4 a.m. and I could swear that the motel was going to slide into the ocean. The room was rattling like it was possessed by a poltergeist, and I assumed the epicenter was right outside our motel window.

Another earthquake had hit L.A., but thankfully, we were spared once again from the ravages of nature. I called our neighbors, and they told us the pets were ok, but that we should get home ASAP to sweep up the debris. We knew the worst was over, so opted to take our time and celebrate by having a double double at an In-and-Out burger joint in Ventura. Why hurry home to face a broom?

In March of 2011, were on a Caribbean cruise when we heard about the tsunami in Japan. Again, I was thrown back to that time in 1971 and 1994, when we were at the mercy of nature. I imagined floods hitting L.A., and Marina del Rey becoming a thing of the past.

Thankfully, most of California was spared, but I felt for those in the path of such destruction. Life can deliver a whammy without notice, and this was another example.

Is the big one coming? Will L.A. soon have Catalina as its port? I don’t know. I just live my life and try to enjoy each day. But we don’t know what’s going to happen. All I know is that I’ll take an earthquake any day over the ominous spiral of a tornado, flash floods, black ice or 12 feet of snow.

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