The aftermath to me can be summed up in one word – “aftershocks.”
Last night I described how we lived through the Northridge earthquake twenty-five years ago. We were less than five miles from the epicenter of a 6.7M quake, the largest in the Los Angeles area in over 160 years. 57 people died, over 8,700 people were injured, and the damage estimates range all the way up to $50B. We survived the initial shaking, everyone safe but full of adrenaline, and then checked the house for damage.
The aftershocks started almost immediately. There was a 6.0M aftershock less than a minute later, while I was with Janet and the kids in the relative safety of the hallway that connected all of the bedrooms in that end of the house. Another came later that same day in the early afternoon.
The size and magnitude of the aftershocks faded with time, but there were still aftershocks big enough to be felt (and startling) several years later. The first day there were dozens and dozens of M5 aftershocks, a week later there were M5 aftershocks every couple of days, a year later they occurred every couple of months. But they still kept occurring.
Immediately after the quake, when we inspected the house and got in touch with our neighbors, it was really dark. We’re used to being in a city that’s light polluted so that even in a “dark” neighborhood you’re lucky to see Orion in the sky at that time of year. But that’s the thing about light pollution. If you pull the big plug and shut off every light in an area roughly the size of Iowa, that light pollution leaves the area at 286,000 miles per second. (Remember, it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law!)
There’s a story that says some people who later reached the police, 9-1-1, and CalTech asked about the weird, bizarre lights in the sky, thinking they were some kind of side effect of the earthquake. Some people think it apocryphal – I think it’s true. I think that in the midst of this disaster at 04:31 in the morning, twenty million Angelenos went outside and for the first time in their entire lives SAW THE STARS IN A DARK SKY.
There’s a tiny bit of wonderful in a giant, economy sized, gargantuan pile of This Sucks!
All utilities were out. For days.
I don’t remember exactly, but I think it was about three to four days (it might have been five) before the electricity came back on. I remember it coming back on in the middle of the night because the lights came on and woke me up. We were all sleeping in that hallway still, due to the aftershocks.
I think the water came back on in three or four days as well. I realized somewhere along the line that we wouldn’t really know when the water came back on, so I turned on the tap in the kitchen. When the water came back, we heard it running in there.
The gas was also off for several days. We just checked the stove periodically after resetting the earthquake valve on the gas meter, which had worked like a champ.
Oddly enough, I remember the phones (land line – I don’t remember if I had a cell phone yet at that point) were back on inside of a day. That was good since it let us contact family and reassure them that we were safe.
We spent the first day just cleaning up. There were broken dishes, spoiled food, etc. We had a barbecue that still worked just fine, so we cooked up what frozen hamburgers and stuff that we had for the first day. We were pretty well off so far as having a decent supply of water, soda, and so on, as well as dry cereal, crackers, nuts, and so on.
School was out for a week or more.
I don’t remember if I went back to my office that week (remember, the quake was in the early hours of Monday) or the following week, but it was a mess. My office at the time was in Encino, about 15 miles from the epicenter, but it was up on the 4th floor of a huge six story office complex, so it had swayed and bounced quite a bit. We couldn’t get into my office at all due to the large bookcases inside that had tipped over, smashed the desk, and blocked the door. We ended up having to pop up the suspended ceiling tiles and climb up and over into the office in order to clear the door.
It also made clear why you duck and cover and get under something heavy (like that desk) in a quake. If I had been there during the quake and not able to get under the desk in time I would have experienced serious injuries or worse.
But the fun was just starting.