Journal of damage assessment experience following the 1994 Los Angeles California earthquake. Photographs & personal diary from the 1994 Northridge California earthquake.
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Occurring in January 1994 this earthquake killed at least 24 people and collapsed numerous buildings as well as sections of the California freeway.
The New York Times edition for 17 January 1994 (left) reported that the pre-dawn tremor leveled many buildings, left others askew and unsafe, and injured hundreds.
Dozens of fires also occurred as ruptured gas lines and gas leaks were ignited. Sorting through earthquake-damaged areas classified as red (destroyed), yellow (major damage), and green (safe to occupy) requires trained damage assessment teams who can make rapid but reliable damage assessment.
Along with other agencies the American Red Cross needs this information to guide how and what assistance is provided in earthquake zones and in setting priorities of attention.
Following the Nortridge earthquake in 1994, LA authorities were receiving 300 calls/hr for building inspectors to tell people whether or not they could reenter their homes.
Working as a volunteer to provide emergency damage assessment assistance for the American Red Cross, a handful of members of ASHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors, and including the author, spent several weeks investigating both areas of major damage, including the sites of fatalities, and other areas where damage was minimal or even non-existent.
Photo at left: section of LA freeway that collapsed during the 1994 Northridge quake. L. a. drivers may have pretended to be cool following this earthquake, but I noticed that when traffic lights turned red, nobody wanted to sit with their car idling beneath sections of freeway that remained standing. Drivers would jockey to stop before the freeway underpass or to just push on through it in response to red lights.
This earthquake was particularly damaging in part because the movement it produced included a side-to-side lurching as well as vertical displacement.
While engineering and architecture experts in seismic construction and earthquake damage have studied with care the damage caused by this and other earthquakes, both natural and manmade, some causes of damage were evident even to more humble home inspectors familiar with construction snafus.
Working as a damage assessment volunteer requires different thinking than typical building damage assessment performed by home inspectors and code compliance officers. The first question is "is the building still there?". Second, is the building standing and conceivably repairable.
On arriving in Los Angeles we found that many people were very frightened - although we were charged with looking only at the outside of buildings, because I speak spanish we were asked into several buildings which were occupied by people afraid to stay therein - despite previous information from non-spanish speakers that it was ok.
The language helped. Prelminary damage assessment had already been done in those areas, meaning that someone had already established whether there was any serious damage. However LA is so big that there remained very large areas that have not been examined even for PDA.
More details of the Northridge Meadows complex collapse and damage are shown in the next six photographs.
Two of us, D. Friedman and Ken Young, were also sent off to double-check for earthquake damage in Watts, an area still suffering from burnout and only limited re-building after the Watts riots that occurred August 11-17, 1965.
Driving up and down every street to screen for damage in the district required permission from and checking for damage reports from and with both local police and ... some other people in neighborhoods still not warmly welcoming outsiders creeping around their streets.
Following is the verbatim text of an original journal kept during this time. Some of the writing is embarrassing, some melodramatic, mostly the writing was a way to relieve stress and calm down after long days of tiring work for the American Red Cross.
QUAKE1.TXT 1/17/94 Earthquake Strikes LA
Special coverage of the earthquake which has struck Southern California is available online. GO EARTHQUAKE to reach a special menu from which you can select a special Earthquake News Clips folder within the Executive News Service, or you can access the Global Crises Forum or the California Forum. The News Clips folder is clipping stories from all the major news wires. The Global Crises and California Forums provide a venue for members to exchange and obtain information.
Phone coverage in the Los Angeles area is sporadic, but members from the area are already logging back on. The ENS/Earthquake News Clips folder, the Global Crises Forum and the California Forum are all a part of CompuServe's extended news services.
QUAKE2 . TXT 1/21/94 5:41 PM to E Cawley
The demo has been useful for showing the sys to a very large nr of users and potential users standing room only at my talk, crowds around the terminals, pretty exciting . . . now of course the challenge is to see how many really sign up and use it when it goes public. The potential for pooled minds is what really excites me - ultimately should mean home inspectors can give home buyers better safer cheaper information - in the end it is entirely personal.
Disappointed in no quakes since here - LA is getting 300 calls/hr for building inspectors to tell people they can reenter their houses - a bunch of us will go up to LA to be deputized to help out - serendipitous (sp) that we had a cnf just south in S.D. - dont know if I'll go up or just offer tech support from remote
1/22/94 3:54 PM (noon PST) to P Galow I'm writing at noon on Sat - in process of being kicked out of the exhibit hall as they close it down for next user - should be home late Sunday night unless I get into the volunteer pgm to look at earthquake dmg in LA - I'll keep you posted. - Dan
1/23/94 - insert: add section on travel to LA, carpools, ASHI "candidate", border check, experience of Jim K in pre quake, waiting at the ARC center, compressed training session 4 hrs to 15 min to 5 mm, and finally, field work.
1/23/94 10:10 PM to Earthquake.lst
Writing a quick note from Red Cross HQ in Los Angeles - a group of ASHI Members - names & details to follow - met with Damage Assessment coordinator to volunteer services in assessing condition of properties in earthquake-damaged areas in and around LA today. I've asked Mara to cancel my appointment and to refer it to Steve Vermilye. My meeting with the CPSC will just be missed.
We went to the epiciter area - saw some remarkable damage - more remarkable is the predominant number of houses which are either undamaged or which sustained only minor damage. On the other hand, when it hits hard it's really hard.
People are very frightened - although we were charged with looking only at the outside of buildings, because I speak spanish we were asked into several buildings which were occupied by people afraid to stay therein - despite previous information from non-spanish speakers that it was ok. The language helped.
I've made reservations to return to Pok on Thursday - arriving late that night - however if there's a real need I may extend here a bit longer - in which case I'll advise. There were no Ca guys here today except Jimmy Kuang who lives here in LA and who gave us a ride up from SanDiego. We had about 8 cars in the field, and were asked to look at specific problem addresses. Prelminary damage assessment had already been done in those areas, meaning that someone had already established whether there was *any* serious damage. However LA is so big that there remain very large areas that have not been exami ned for PDA - which some of us will doubtless do tomorrow.
Most of the first half of the day was spent waiting - processing thru Red Cross, getting registered, getting cars, and compressing a 4-hour PDA education class into 15 minutes. The ground feels quite solid at the moment. Probably greatest risk is if one wanders into a hostile area of LA. - or getting bitten by a hungry dog. Dan
This visit will be educational, maybe sometimes fun, so far not scary. Writing 2nd msg from my hotel room - the R.C. has arranged to put up some of its volunteers at the Radison - I'm no the 10th floor.
Perhaps in appreciation for initiating an ASHI response to the disaster needs. Far more posh than I expected (nor want) - I'd made arrangements to sleep on someone's floor. If it's convenient for you you might give [my kids] a call and give the numbers and say I'm still fine. I'm usually to be out in the field during the day and by the time I'm free at night it's pretty late for me to call back east.
Saw amazing crashes today near Epicenter. And the ususal range of human behavior. One house has big damage, including stone falling on and crushing the car.
The neighbor saw us looking over the house (took photos) and wanted to know if I was from the insurance co - since some of the stones fell across into his driveway where they damaged a baby stroller. (This was in Granada Hills N of Northridge.) Here his neighbor is, destroyed, and he's looking at his stroller. I was able to hold my tongue.
I think tomorrow I'll be able to cover more territory not having to spend half the day getting organized. Between the emergency landing at O'Hare and the damage assessment work here, I'll probably be low on adrenalin when I get home. Maybe it'll produce a calmer guy. I am glad to have you to talk with. Did I give you the ASH! ONLINE test numbers and procedure? I'm not on there too much at the moment anyway - at least until this stuff is over. Daniel J
1/24/94 1:24 AM to David Hoff Got here this AM after just a few hours sleep - was in SanDiego at the annual ASHI Conf when I heard that 300 calls/hr were coming in to the Red Cross in LA for damage assessment needed to get people out of shelters and back home Seemed a great opportunity for ASHI to pitch in - recruited, promoted, and a bunch of us worked here today doing damage assessments - very interesting and not too scary. (Though two of my members had high pulse rates and RC wouldn't let them into the field until they calmed
Keeping in touch via Email since I'm on a westcoast schedule. Hope and trust you and Robin and Curtis and ? are doing fine.
1/25/94 2:33 AN to Ellen Moore and Linda Berman The attached is a note I sent to my sister - just in case the SIG thinks I'm here goofing off in the hotel: Monday 1/24/94 to family and my few friends:
A good part of Sunday was consumed with the usual disaster activity - processing and waiting; eventually cars were obtained and teams formed to send into the field - into specific problem areas to report on particular addresses.
Damage assessment reqires quite different thinking than usual for ASHI home inspectors. For example,the first quesiton: Is the building still there? Second, is it standing and conceivably repairable. Even minor movement can cause a building to be considered not habitable if it has no mechanicals, since the municipality doesn't want squatters in unsanitary conditions.
As we complete damage assessment, areas are classified according to LA disaster criteria as red (destroyed) , yellow (Major damage) , and green (safe to occupy). Some of us were consumed with very small areas where severe damage, previously unreported, was discovered. Two teams were dispatched south of LA to areas where we had no reports of damage, but from whence had come complaints of inattention.
With Ken Young I was the "team" to track the streets of Watts and surrounding districts. There was no earthquake damage at all, though we did have a few bad moments in unfriendly neighborhoods. The red cross on the car, along with traveling during daylight, was probably essential. In addition to working a grid pattern of Watts streets (driving slowly, looking for damage, raises the hackes of the turf -controllers) , we also spoke with local fire departments and police stations to ask if they had complaints of earthquake damage. There were none in that area.
Unlike the slow-mo driveby damage assessments of other neighborhoods, the local police, through his bulletproof glass public interface window suggested we just stay out - advice we didn't intend to follow. "Drive as fast as you can" he then advised. We started speeding up and down every street looking for any sign of a house that was damaged, askew, off its foundation, or cracked glass - nothing.
In the middle of a very modest but clean neighborhood of bungalos a car suddenly passes us and screeches to a halt, spun across and blocking the road. Another appears and does the same behind us. We sit in silence. Ken, whom I learn only later, is an ex cop, stares ahead saying nothing.
About six guys amble up to our little rental car with my little red cross tag in the left corner of the dashboard. Everyone is waiting for ... somebody. Who soon shows up and by size, swagger, and the deference he's shown, is clearly a neighborhood boss. Ken figures we're intruders. And dead.
I figure "Heck we're the good guys, here to look for people needing assistance after the quake." which I'm sure I can explain. And do. And we're sent on our way. Later Ken says in his experience in some tough neighborhoods you don't get to explain. Some young tough, just to show his buddies he's fearless, may just walk up, poke an automatic through your window and ... BLAM! At least that's what he figured.
We also visited Sherman Oaks, one of the more severely hit areas northwest of Central LA, to study some of the more severe damage. It was obvious that in addition to the luck of the draw common to such disasters, construction practices made a big difference - not in actually avoiding building damage, but in avoiding building collapse.
At wood-frame buildings I found a first floor that had crushed into the parking gharage below noses and tails of cars poking from the debris, and in one case, a floor that was nearly vertical in one apartment. No one could have avoided fall ing into the space below had they been in that unit.
At a multistory building which had severe damage I photographed steel connections which secured columns to foundations - which had bent but not broken, probably keeping the building from crushing the first floor.
At another neighboring building with worse damage from lateral movement, I found and photographed the complete ripping apart of wood frame connections.
Where nails were improperly driven (too few, or straight rather than toe-nailing) to secure studs to rim joists or to plates, the components simply pulled apart. Where nailing was proper and stronger, the wood simply fractured and ripped apart, permitting just as much movement. It made no difference.
6" steel Lally columns imbedded in a concrete foundation wall were simply bent over, but at least kept the floor above from collapsing.
Several apartment buildings and one house I photographed had been shifted about three feet to one side, and in one case, also several feet to the rear. I saw construction over crawl spaces, where a frame knee wall sat atop the foundation, atop which continued additional floor and wall structrures.
These buildings, subject to severe movement, simply broke as a hinge at the top of the knee wall, levering the building over and dropping it down the height of the original wall.
In fact much of the damage is unusual because buildings were bounced vertically rather than the more common lateral movement. At many windows and other rectangular building components we see a consistent X-type crack pattern radiating from the four corners of the rectangle of window or other item. Some building columns broke in this X-pattern, lowering the structure as a result.
Single-family homes, often smaller bungalos, fared better than larger two and three story apartments and condos - it appears that the larger bulidings were ripped apart by forces that the smaller building often rode out.
While we found some houses with very severe damage, even totally destroyed, the most common damage was fallen chimneys and masonry. In one instance a chimney had been constructed without steel re-bar (required by local codes) and teh chimney had fallen through the roof, breaking rafters, an d almost certainly continuing through the ceilings into the rooms below
The roof had been stripped and repairs were in process when we found the property. Masonry veneers were also commonly fallen, in some cases damaging cars or other building components. I think I mentioned the round stone veneer that crushed the car in a previous message.
The building is really askew, at about a 30 degree angle, but there is a tempting window close to ground level. We clamber inside, leaving the owner and daughter a safe distance away holding our clipboard.
Inside the building it was as if all posessions had been run through a blender.
Photo at left: Earthquake, glass frog survivor of the 1994 Northridge Earthquake.
Imagine if you could pick up an entire house, you're some kind of strong giant. So you pick up this house and then shake it up and down to homogenize everything inside. Beds are in the bathroom, pots are under the bed, clothes are everwhere, dishes are smashed to smithereens, plants are upside down, just about everything is broken.
Broken debris piled deep on floors is moving dangerously and the floor, at a steep angle with respect to level, is obviously ready to collapse. The floor shook from passage. (We inspected below before entering this area.) The real danger is probably to be in such a building if there is an aftershock. Remarkably, amidst broken debris we found some delicate items (including frogs) unbroken, but often tossed into odd locations or buried with other items that' had been nowhere together originally.
The occupant had been a collector of frog sculptures - a Native American icon of renewal and cleansing. Wonderfully, several of the frogs have survived being in the Northridge blender and are scattered about. In a flower pot that retained its dirt and is more or less upright I spot a small glass frog who has landed on his head in the soil. He joins his sisters to be rescued. We retrieve personal items: photographs, ceramic and glass frogs, some clothing, a couple of dishes, anything we can grab and carry without falling through the floor.
Suddenly the building begins to make an awful moaning noise. We make our way as fast as we can without shaking anything and clamber back outside of the window, dropping to the ground.
The collection of salvaged photographs, clothing, and most important, the frogs is shown, then handed over to the owner who, waiting a safe distance away, beams with pleasure. Adding this detail this nineteen years later I understand that when you've got nothing left, a few mementos and photographs are indeed everything.
She and I discussed frog karma (remember this is California) and she was kind enough to give me one of her rescued frogs, "Earthquake" who, accompanied me back to Poughkeepsie and who posed for a cameo appearance just above.
It was common to find people still trying to salvage their belongings from wrecked buildings. Many asked for some help or reassurance. Sometimes simply a hug was what was required. Hugs are pretty easy to donate.
In Spanish-speaking neighborhoods there was a particular problem that some of the original city inspectors had delcared buildings safe, but there was no explanation in Spanish. As I can stumble along in Sp. I looked at a few apartment buildings for occupants, and explained the difference between structural damage and cracked plaster. Not knowing construction terms was not much of a problem since niether did the occupants. We talked about the difference between the bones of the body and damage to its skin.
That approach worked well enough as a fear reduction step that Family Services and Mental Health services allowed me to suggest some ways to explain to the occupants what it is that damage assessment workers are doing and how they decide a building is safe. The explanation seems to work better than just saying "it's safe, go on back in" especially since they see cracks everywhere in plaster interiors and stuccoed exteriors. Since there are 50-70 family assistance volunteers arriving every few hours, I elected to write out my fear-reduction suggestion (for use by the training staff) rather than trying to continue an endless series of 10 minute lectures.
In areas of the most obvious dramatic damage there are often photographers visible prowling for "good shots" - I feel we should be a bit sensitive about gawking photographs. One collapsed apartment building bore a sign "If you're going to take photographs at least offer to help the victims." But no one with whom I spoke objected to photodocurnentation of construction details and failures such as we were doing. I think the people-photos, while more personally interesting, may be more intrusive as well. So yo u'll probably find that more human element missing from my photographs.
Neighbors are still helping neighbors. One man described to me how he'd restored water pressure to his apartment, so that everyone in the building at least had a working toilet to use. Of course his apartment had no walls but other arrangements were made for privacy. There are still a very large number of people living in tents and in the parks. As there was a chilly rain tonight, doubtless there are alot of uncomfortable people.
A large part of the city still has not been examined in detail - though it's likely that the worst large areas have been identified. A preliminary estimate of damage from just a portion of central LA was completed tonight, and was close to one billion dollars.
We were joined at the end of the day by additional ASHI members who'd arrived and been assigned field work during the day. Tomorrow we'll be taking color-coded maps to a number of service centers where we'll use them to explain the condition of various neighborhoods. (The ASHI Team spent quite some time coloring maps - expaning their technica 1 skills with magic markers in the process.) - Dan
After seeing off some fellow ASHI'ers in the morning I was asked to provide damage assessment support to a red cross relief center, one of about 15, which opened at mid-day just east of Northridge - the epicenter area of worst damage. As there was another center right in Northridge itself (epicenter) we were not as swamped with families as that location.
I worked with one other experienced red cross damage assessment volunteer, John Scooler. John sells office furniture to the aerospace industry. He's a pro at disaster relief. In fact I continue to be impressed with the experience and professionalism of the Red Cross volunteer corps. Most people have considerable experience, and are able to get to work quickly despite the as-expected chaotic situation.
This was not building inspection at all - nearly pure "common volunteer" service. We post a public map of the area, showing none of our damage assessment markings. This map is used to permit the clients to help us find the location of their house in the area. For each person or family asking for assistance John or I mapped their address onto a non-public map which contains damage assessment data (the map coloring project mentioned in my previous message.) Until this step is completed, the red cross family service volunteer is unable to determine what extent of support is required or permitted by the guidelines. We are going absolutely blind reading the tiny print on maps. Magnifying glasses are in short supply, and an old nasty one I found in ray wallet was pressed into service.
On opening we were crowded by a large number of families all from the same area. Looking at the map I saw that the streets involved were directly behind the UAW headquarters which we were using as the relief station. Most of the relief workers, strangers to the area themselves, had no idea that the clients were streaming from projects right behind the UAW building. Since this area had not been inspected for damage I left the center, visited the streets involved, interviewed the local letter carrier (who kne w quite well which buldings had been damaged - none in the prime area from which we had a number of claimants. It's common for people from low-income areas of project housing to appear for relief regardless of disaster damage level.
Damage or not, many people are frightened. The red cross center includes both family service people who can arrange for various benefits, and mental health professionals who can provide counseling services. In one instance I heard the RC volunteer arranging for a nurse to visit the mother of an applicant. The mom was still in her house, and on an oxygenator.
We had some applicants from areas of worst damage as well-from Sherman Oaks, an area I had studied in detail the day before. Some people came from remarkable distances. In some of these cases people were referred to our center from other more crowded relief locations. By mid afternoon there were long lines in the parking lot behind our building and it was necessary to be very careful pulling the car in and out-'kids were thick about.
One woman whose Greek name had too many letters for me to pronounce successfully was so frightened that I was really concerned for her. Our mental health staff was not on site yet. She spoke so softly that she was hard to hear. The air becane thick around us. Fear.
It's remarkable that in other parts of this huge city people seem to continue with their regular work. As I drove up to this particular center the freeway was crowded. I wondered, where are all these people going, so busy, driving past parks filled with tents, parking lots with people sleeping, living in their cars. Contrasts and ironies are probably the standard fare of all disaster sites - its probably just neophyte disaster-shock.
But it's not as it seems. Everyone is affected. I stopped for film in downtown LA. Downtown LA is a ployglot of cultures with a very large Korean population. A lovely Asian girl, a student, waited on me, then asked her Spanish manager for help finding the film I wanted. She saw my RC disaster worker badge and asked what I was doing. Her school will not reopen until April.
At that news she smiled. Then her expression became serious and her smile stretched into a thin sadness. Her parents have a variety sto re in NorthRidge. Their store was not damaged, other than dust all over the stock. The economy was slow before and they had been struggline. Now no one comes in her parent's store. She explained: their customers' houses are crushed. No one in her parent's neighborhood is interested in buying anything from a dusty variety store. She doesn't expect their business to survive. As I turned to carry myself and my film to the car she called afterwards "Be careful!"
In the afternoon John and I left to visit some of the sites for which we had claimants but no damage reports. Two of the most serious areas of damage involve trailier parks, one of which was in national news because of the extensive fires there. The second trailer area had no fires, but all of the trailers were dumped off of their foundations. Repairs were already underway for some units. Generally trailer repairs cost under $3000. - a far cry from what will be typical repair costs to the more badly damaged single-family homes.
It was very helpful to have already driven about the areas of damage, as I was better able to interpret the maps and damage data. In many instances, for example involving people from the Sherman Oaks area, I had visited the streets from which applicants now came for relief - speeding the procedure at the relief center.
There was more irony. At one apartment complex the buldings were in near perfect condtion. I met an Iranian family who, except for the father/husband, were terrified to reenter the building. Several families were so badly frightened that they were still sleeping outside.
One small boy was particularly suffering, as he was too frightened to go inside to the toilet.
People were very concerned about the smallest hairline crack in the stucco covering of the exterior walls, despite the absence of any significant signs of building movement.
Yet in this same complex I met a chinese family who were moving in to the building, having had to evacuate their destroyed home in Northridge, nearby to the West. People continue to remain terrified of being crushed - with good reason.
Bodies were still being pulled from wreckage today.
It's contaigous. I find waiting to enter the freeway sometimes requires remaining stuck in traffic below a freeway overpass. It is not a comfortable place to wait. I. cannot imagine that any of the drivers waiting there were not
as anxious as I was for the light to change to green.
We worked at the center until quite late - hours past official closing time, as we were still processing families. It's quite exhausting.
There is nearly no telephone service in the relief center area - cellular phones were available, but were used so much we could not keep the batteries charged.
A pay phone was working but had a continuous line of users. That's why I'm impossible to reach other than through the Red Cross damage assessment center.
Reporting back to damage assessment headquarters I was pleased to learn that our own Vera HW had spoken with Gonzalo Hernandez and the R.C. pr staff. We speculated that PR talking with PR must have been heaven for both. I have the impression that the RC is appreciative of ASHI's response.
Curiously, probably because we launched our efforts over the weekend, we've had more participants than the local CA group. And now that the immediate volunteer need is for damage assistance at the relief centers (more clas sic non-expert volunteer work) the job may attract fewer home inspectors. When the additional RC staff arrive, any inspector volunteers may be again more useful in the field as damage assesors used to visit specific addresses in need of inspection.
It's fortunate that we were able to muster a number of experienced inspectors - Mark Cramer and Howard Langenveld were particularly helpful. Vera, just keeping you updated on names as best I can (and noting that any lists will be incomplete) some of the later ASHI arrivals who helped out (and now are gone) included Bob Jordan, Jennifer Davidson (CREIA), Mary Fisher (CREIA/ASHI), ALek Kiselica, Jeff Burkrnan (I don't know the ASHI status of the latter two) . I think Mary plans to return to help some more start ing Friday. Today we also had more Canadian help from Cliff Neyedli, from Coquitlam, B.C. (ASHI/CAHI) Mark Cramer and the Youngs left this morning. Mary and Jennifer left in the afternoon. Some of the other early participants were never seen again - probably moving on to earning a living.
Another reasons the damage assessment worker is in the relief center is to notice when we get a number of claimants from an area which has not yet been inspected. Today I identified what I thought were two areas of severe damage which had not been inspected. Actually one of them, in the Santa Clarita area (heavy damage) has been assessed but I had not seen that data. The other area, in VanNuys has some red-tagged houses (marked by city inspectors) but had not been fully screened and listed in the PC data. We'll doubtless examine that area tomorrow. It's entirely possible that additional damaged houses will be discovered to bury additional fatalities.
No engineer, nevertheless I'm particularly interested in documenting some of the successful as well as failing building connections -- before demolition makes it impossible to record the data. One doesn't have to be a professional engineer to see that one building collapsed and that another did not. But closer looks at the details might show something to the professionals so I'll try to steal some time from relief work to do some photo work. Frankly it's hard to focus on documentation when there's a frightened or hungry crowd. Oh and I wanted to mention that I've found a good supplement to hugs as treatment. Animal cookies are great with kids. Remember that. Animal cookies can be very important.
After not eating all day I was too tired to bother with dinner, but at the last minute I stopped at a Korean restaurant - it had to be good as I was the only non-Korean in the place. Best such eating since Seoul 1967. So your ASHI staff in LA rewarded itself.
Sorry this is a bit rambling and wordy - late, tired. More time to write -would have been shorter.
I was planning to return to Northridge (epicenter) today to take time off from relief work and to make some more photos of building details which failed, contributing to collapse, and also of details that worked. But on entering Red Cross HQ early in the AM the director was excited about threats of riots in South LA so we were quickly dispatched as three teams to do damage assessment in that area (where I suspected there would be little damage, based on my work on Monday in Watts).
South of downtown LA there indeed was damage, though not nearly as severe as northwest of the city. Most damage was limited falling chimneys and concomitant damage to cars and nearby houses. But this city is so huge that it's no surprise to occasionally come upon an area of severe destruction which has still not been reported. In fact I'd say far less than half the total area has even had preliminary damage assessment completed. That's not as bad as it sounds since damage workers are dispatched largely in response to reports from residents. If there's a really big area of damage it's likely to be reported early.
Larry and I head for South LA, reading maps and backtracking up and down freeways as needed to find our way into the assigned area. Larry wears a white and red Red Cross jacket, and a very professional plastic Red Cross ID badge.
I'm wearing my ASHI Conference name tag "Dan", to which I've stuck a Red Cross Disaster Team sticker for ID. My tag is pinned to the same shirt I've had on since Sunday. We have a Red Cross sticker on our windshield, and as we drive
through neighborhoods people know we're there for them. To me at first, this ID business a bit self-important. But in Watts on Monday it kept two of us from being shot. Literally.
I'm driving. Larry says they don't have eight-lane wide four-story high freeways in Wichita. I prefer to drive - adjusting the car's speed to the level of damage clues. I hope to have some chance of covering the assigned area before dark. If it's an area of large or expensive homes, or big buildings, we can quickly determine if there's big damage. In poorer neighborhoods of many smaller homes jammed together we have to slow down. It's deceptively easy to miss severe earthquake damage. And when we find serious damage, things nearly halt as the looking becomes much more detailed.
In Southern LA Toshibo Sugioka sits quietly on the front steps of her ruined home. Larry Timmermeyer (retired, from Wichita Kansas) and I drive up Toshibol's street, South Rimpau. We are scanning for clues that might indicate a serious problem.
We look for fallen chimneys, cracks around the base of houses, or other obvious signs of movement. From a glance some houses look intact but may in fact be several feet away from their foundation risking gas leaks and structural safety problems. This is not home ins pection, it's looking for gross damage.
At Toshibo's front porch, round hollow-wood columns both lean at a crazy angle to the right. We stop the car and get out. Toshibo's daughter has just finished packing some salvaged belongings in a car. Toshibo walks across the brown grass to speak with us. Her husband died a few months ago. She's lived in this house for forty years. Two days ago someone came by and told her her house was "ok." She does not think so at all.
Fortunately gas and electricity are off. I look into the crawl space, and I examine the wall framing. The house floors were supported atop a knee wall which gave added crawl space height above the concrete foundation. When the house bounced during the quake, the knee wall buckled, literally levering the house over exactly the width of the knee wall.
Below the center of the house the piers have fallen. At the rear right corner of the house the electric wires, given slack by the move of the house, rest atop the roof of the neighboring house. A small tree has been pushed over and lies partly buried by the right hand wall of the house. Remarkably, I don't see broken windows!
Inside, four decades of accumulated belongings have been stirred together to make stuff-soup. Toshibo has been making stacks of newspapers, plates, pictures, in each room.
She shows me where she was sleeping when the earthquake hit. In the center of the house she moves aside a pile of cushions and a foam mat to show me a steel box topped with an ornate grill. I have no immediate idea what I'm seeing. The box, painted a pale yellow, extends about a foot and a half above the bouncy floor which itself slopes towards the center of the room. Toshibo makes me understand that the box which appears to stand above the floor was in fact once a heating register for her under-floor furnace.
The floors have fallen around the heater. I photograph a four-inch separation between an inside wood column and the arch it once supported. I have to reassure Toshibo that I'm documenting parts of the structure, not her piles of dusty belongings. She's embarrassed that the house is not neat.
Toshibo had no thought of asking for assistance. I explain that there is a Red Cross relief center quite near, I write it's address, show her its location on the map - yes, she knows where that is. But it may take a day or two for my damage report to find its way to this relief center. If she goes there she may receive only limited help while relief workers wait to determine the condition of her house.
I give her a note, declaring the house "condition red" which means totally destroyed, and I sign my name, providing what I hope is enough information to satisfy the family care workers at the center.
Toshibo wants to know what "condition red" means. I tell her. She already knew the house was ruined, but now I've said it. She looks at me, I offer a hug and she puts her thin arms around me gently.
We hug one another, and we both fight back tears. This was her home for forty years.
Everything is lost.
I've extended my time here to help out for a few more days. I will probably be back in Poughkeepsie on Saturday night.
QUAKE7 . TXT
1/27/94 1:11 AM to Emilio Fischman/Ellen Moore
I've been asked to extend my time, and I managed to change my return flight once again, to this Saturday. Actually there is work for far more than we yet have on hand, but Red Cross workers continue to stream in daily. A good portion of LA still has not been checked for damage, and we continue to find small pockets of severe damage which even today had not yet been visited by any damage worker or city authority. My daily "diary" describes one such event today - if you want I can upload it, or all of it, lat er. I just don't have the energy to do editing of my material at the moment.
1/27/94 1:13 AM to E Nisley
Nice to hear from you. I'm not by any means the man on the spot - there's an army of experienced Red Cross pro's on the spot. But they need all the help they can get - and are first-class at being appreciative.
I meet alot of people who want to be somewhere else. And I assure you, when I wait on the freeway, heading down to South LA, and find myself under four-high stacked concrete roadways, I wait with anxiety for the traffic to get moving again.
1/27/94 5:41 AM from Ellen Moore on Emilio Fischrnan's CIS account
I can't begin to imagine the devastation out there. The chaos, disruption, confusion. This has got to take its toll emotionally. The pictures I've seen looked like a war zone. How can one ever trust the earth again?
Anyway, glad you're safe. Be careful crawling around those precariously perched beams.
Thanks for the updates. Keep in touch.
I'm getting ready for a trip to Texas on the 11th, and need to write a bunch of stuff before going, to say nothing of planning out what I'm going to say when I get there to get a proposal in hand. If I start not making sense, just remember that <<Education kills by degrees.>> - Ellen
1/27/94 7:35PM from M Cramer
Are you still there? What's going on there. I hope you have some good photos. I have none. I'm interested in working on the Red Cross ASHI connection. In your free time,<g> I hope you'll write an article about the experience for the Reporter and let me publish in the Suncoast Inspector first!
1/25/94 5:13 PM From Dave Hoff
What a story! I appreciate it being copied on your ASHI email.
I had forgotten that you were on the West Coast just in time for the quake.
CBC did a long story on a science show about highways and how the react to the quake. One interesting comment was that land formations make for substantially different intensity over relatively small areas. Seismologists have not got good models of how these small area effects work.
Give me a ring when you get home. I shall look forward to more dispatches from the trenches.
1/25/94 to Al Carson from DJF
I've faxed a number of status reports to VERA if you want to know what's going on. I can be contacted most easily via Compuserve by sending Email to 73016,530 Duncan might want to get his Compuserve account running. I'll also check in at ASHI ONLINE - which might have been my main contact means if we already had everyone on the system. Duncan can contact me there, or he can show you how to use your own account.
Our people have made a helpful showing - about 20 ASHI and a smaller number of CREIA inspectors are assisiting in damage assessment. I'm also conducting some training for family care and mental health workers, offering a few tips on explaining building condition to occupants, as an aid to reducing fear and getting people back inside andoff the streets once a building is declared safe. It's not like home inspections. Dan
1/25/94 10:45 AN to larry Hoytt via Internet
I'm working, along with some other ASHI and CREIA inspectors, helping do damage assessment. I'm also doing some training for family care and mental health workers in explaining how we determine a building is safe to reenter - to help reduce the fear people have to go back inside. Will be here in LA at least until Thursday, maybe longer. Our people have made a good showing about 15 or more ASHI people, maybe 20 total, and about 12-14 CREIA people so far. Our people were from as far away as NY and CT.
The damage is devastating - yet as happens with earthquakes, houses are spared next door to collapses. I'm looking closely at connection and construction details to see what we might learn about what survives and what falls - beyond the random chance element.
I can be contacted via Compuserve since I'm checking Email nightly.
QUAKE9 . TXT
1/28/94 3:54 PM to L. Berman, S. Bliss, E. Cawley, D. Hoff, P Galow, E Nisley, V. Wadler Earthquake list
Now that the shaking stopped I can continue - I had a nice note from my friend Ed Nisley who's worried that I'm freaking out sorry folks, I guess my dramatic writing may have gotten a bit excessive. I'm quite fine not to worry anybody.
Back to work on street maps and disaster-relief.
1/28/94 3:48 PM to Earthquake list I'm working in a Relief Center in Van Nuys - using the PC to track and locate streets- - they had no printer but do have a fax, so we enter street data, sort it, and fax it to ourselves. THe BUILDING IS SHAKING as I write this - biggest tremor I've felt so far - about 15 seconds! Gotta go.
From: Dan Friedman, 73016,530 TO: Arthur Sultzberger, >FAX:1-212-556-1434 DATE: 1/28/94 2:02 AM
RE: Copy of: LA Quake - your home inspector on site
I know specific articles may be not your particular interest, but your home inspector, Dan Friedman, has been on the scene at the LA Quake site since Sunday, working as a Red Cross volunteer, and writing daily Email notes to a few friends.
I spent the morning inside Northridge Meadows - the scene of worst collapse and fatalities. I spent the afternoon working in a Red Cross relief center as a damage assessment worker, and doing some Spanish translation to help the family service workers. I've been taking hundreds of photographs, mostly of building failure details, in hope we may find something useful by seeing what broke and what did not.
If you have any interest in what I have to report, you can leave a message at my hotel, the Radisson at 213-381-7411 rm 1017, or you might find me through the Red Cross damage assessment HQ at 213-739-5660, or in the field at the relief center at 818-988-6351. I have been writing (for myself) both technical information about the collapsed buildings and human-interest descriptions of some of the victims.
The Red Cross people have really impressed me by their ability to jump into the chaos of a really huge disaster. They are quick to provide useful service, using a mostly volunteer corps. I imagine they may be a bit sensitive aboutmy offer of private information to the Times, and I would certainly be careful not to step on any Red toes, lest they get too Cross.
I won't clutter your fax with material unless you indicate you're interested. As I'm a good writer to start with, your editors could doubtless make something of it. I will leave for the East Coast on Saturday.
Dan Friedman, currently in LA.
[Note: regrettably the New York Times did not find my field reports compelling nor were they published - DF 12/13/2013]
1/28/94 1:41 AM to Laurraine Tutihasi, 71613,1227 who sent an email asking for help
Laurraine, it's nice to get your note. You are in fact helping, by cheering me up. It was a particularly tiring day. I spent the AM in NorthRidge meadows apartments the site of ugliest damage, and was in and all over the buildings. I spent the afternoon in a relief center doing damage assessment work and spanish translation.
Glad you didn't have much damage. Where are you located? Do you need any assitance?
1/28/94 1:38 AM to M Cramer I have hundreds of photos, most taken today when I stole time, a pass, and a hard hat to tour the worst-damaged site - where most fatalities. It was horrible. I've been writing daily news to Vera by FAX - not sure where we ought to publish anything, but will work with you on it all. I've extended until Saturday. It's tiring, saddening, amazing, exciting, interesting, and terrible. And frightening at times. I'll get some of the files to you. I check in Email daily.
1/28/94 1:33 AM to Earthquake list A separate file, LA Notes 1/27/94, has my construction observations made while taking several hundred detailed photos at Northridge Meadows the complex which suffered the most fatalities during the recent earthquake. If my serious friends like Steve B. and Ed N. want to see the file let me know and I'll Email it to you.
I obtained a pass and hard-hat and permission to enter all building areas for the purpose. The pass was a yellow post-a-note with the proper secret words on it. The hat was an LA city inspector's hard hat with duct tape slapped here and there with a "T" on the duct tape (for "tenant").
Entering these buildings is quite dangerous and appropriately scary. During one aftershock - later reported to be 4.5 R, I was lucky to be outside. The ground suddenly, violently, and happily only momentarily, dropped from beneath me. The building made a sickening crunching sound, and sank a few inches further to earth. Earth takes on a new sense of meaning when it can drop from beneath your feet in an instant.
That was the first shock I'd felt for sure. It was not what I expected. It's sudden, violent, quick, and very frightening. Especially if you're standing near something percarious. I'm not describing the building work I did in this note except to say it was as if a giant of boundless energy had chosen to rip asunder the homes and lives of a lot of people in NorthRidge. These forces laugh as they twist a 16" steel I-beam into a joke, bend 6" steel columns right to the ground so fast the paint heats and peels off, rip 2x121s as if they were brittle balsa, and lift and throw three-story buildings as if they were tinkertoy cabins.
By mid-day I was feeling teary and sick from the death and destruction of the site. The nearby MacDonalds is open, serving plastic food. I sort of stared at my lunch awhile before I could eat it. The MacD has no soda machines but sells coke by the can; they have no water, but somehow are able to operate. The fries were not as good as the fries at my local McD in New York--too soggy. And you know I don't have much nice to say about New York!
I sat inside - wanting to be around some live people for a while - people who were not dusty from carrying earthquaked posessions out through broken windows and down ladders of shaking building walls.
I ate facing a woman who has to be at least 390 years old. She seemed to contemplate taking the tiniest morsel from her salad - she'd take a bit on a fork, lift it slowly, stare it it, then put it into her mouth. I kept saying (silently to myself) "Conte on! chew!" And slowly she did so. Wrinkles made changing topographic maps with each movement of her mouth.
Next to me sat two Japanese men who discussed the lack of water in the area.
At the local photo store slide film was $11.--I asked the owner if he was gouging. The owner claimed he was giving me a 20% discount. He began shouting
and raging. I asked "Are you mad at me?" "No, I'm mad at myself, at all of
this!" he turned and waved backhand as if slapping his camera store. I left, paying nearly $50. for four rolls of film. A large man with a long pointed beard and rolls of what I have to politely call fat, waddled after me to my car. "I just want you to know how glad we are that yo u're here." he went on to add other kudos of embarrassing thanks. Nice fat.
Back on Reseda Blvd. Joanna Albert saw my yellow LA City Hard Hat and Disaster badge. As happens throughout the area I was immediately captured for a pro-bono building inspection and consultation. Other tenants joned her. The building is green-tagged, which means the City inspectors feel it's safe and has only minor damage. They take me inside to see cracking sheetrock. One wall has already been replaced with new drywall. Boxes line the foyer as people are moving out as fast as possible. I wonder why they t hink a different building in LA will be more safe.
Joanna's father, 86 year old Stuart, has lived in this building since it was built twenty years ago. He wants to return, once he's released from the hospital. He was in the VA hospital when the quake struck. The hospital was badly damaged. In an hour he was evacuated. Now he's at LomaLinda hospital, many miles away.
I think about the age of the building: it was built before the improved building codes. After what I just saw across the street at Northridge Meadows, I wonder if I'd want to be in this building. But at least it seems to be on a slab, not over a poorly supported parking garage or an unbraced knee-wall crawl space. She wants help deciding if the building is safe for her father, and we talk about risks. No one will promise that there's no risk. I suggest she think about what it may do to her elderly father to uproot him from his home. It may kill him faster than the next quake. Perhaps she'll check with -a counseling service or, I suggest, the Red Cross who offer disaster counseling. People want someone to tell them that it's ok. That the earth will not shake again, that their building won't crush them as it did across the street.
After calling in to Damage Assessment HQ in LA I return to the relief center where I worked on Tuesday. They had wanted me to return on Wednesday but we were off in South LA that day, looking for damage and offering PR to help avoid riots at the local relief center.
In the relief center, unit #15, we're three miles from the epicenter. Damage is much less in this area, but there are lines of people waiting all day to learn what benefits they can obtain from the ARC. There's the full range, from people who really need disaster aid, to people who live next door and want free new clothes if they can get it.
We've lost the registration for Delores Hernandez. She was at the center yesterday, case #235. Several of us scour the relief center to no avail. There's a discussion. I suggest we simply ask her to give the registration information again. There's reluctance to face admitting we lost the form. I think we should be more reluctant to see her sit there another four hours while we keep looking. Delores is understandably frustrated, as well as frightened and sick from the quake.
A new form is made, and I get to tell her the news - I am one of two staff who peak Spanish at the center. Ms. Hernandez is not happy. But I promise we'll move her to the head of the present "line" for service. We do. Later I'm pressed into translator role for the family service worker, when he needs help explaining several forms and procedures to Hernandez. I look up "Can you stand on your feet?" as well as relief center, nurse, stress, and shelter. Delores Hernandez helps ire get the pronunciation right, and as a result of her needing assistance, and my needing assistance to give assistance, we're in this together. New friends. She's a pretty big woman.
Delores doesn't want to go to the shelter. She's afraid of the crowd of people there. She asks me if I understand her word for fear - miedo - which I know quite well from this morning in NorthRidge. Yes, I say, Yo tengo maiedo taiabien. She will sleep tonight again in the park.
Tomorrow, with a Red Cross voucher, she will buy one set of new clothes, and some shoes. She made sure about the shoes. She has a second voucher to see a doctor at a nearby medical center. Yes, she knows where it is. If the doctor there agrees that she's too ill to stay in a shelter then. she may have other accomodations. But,. I have to explain, the Red Cross doesn't provide hotel rooms when they have a shelter available. The forms are explained, we double check that we both understand one another, we share a nice warm, fat, earthquake-preventing hug, and Delores Hernandez returns to the park.
I ask the appropriate people, then sit with a family care worker during her interview of Latasha Love. Ms. Love is a single head of household, we learn, with three small children: Nicole who is five, Daniel who is four, and Camille who's two. Camille just had cateract surgery. She was born with a cateract in one eye. The kids are being watched by their aunt.
Latasha's apartment was damaged by falling plaster and water from broken plumbing. She tells us that every single posession she had was thrown out by the landlord who presently has workers renovating the apartment. She doens't think the building is safe. She needs another place to stay, clothing, food. She also has a bad cough. She describes bad building damage- first that a floor fell into the garage - later it's cleared up that plaster fell from the garage ceiling onto some cars.
I'm asked to make a home visit with Latasha Love, to see the conditions there. I want to go to my own home. It's already later than I intended to work. Latasha and I walk to my rental car and there's some confusion - she was at the center with another carload of people. She and a young man get into my car. He is not introduced, and does not speak. I think she was not comfortable riding without a third person in the car. Some comment about going "with him alone?"
We drive for several years through LA evening traffic. South on VanNuys, then finally, West on Vanowen to South again on Gloria. By now, LA street names fill my head like alphabet soup. I am tired, coughed on, and worried about what Gonzalo Hernandez will say to me back at HQ about stealing a car and disappearing for the whole morning to photograph in a dangerous location. I think I'll give him my LA City Inspectors hard hat since he doesn't get out in the field he might like it to put in a closet somewhe re in his new house in Baltimore.
I pull up where Ms. Love directs. The car in front of me is ready to pull out. He has about ten feet in front of him to get out. He places his car in reverse and slams into my rental car. I suspect a black-white "thing" going down here and I have no patience for it. He waits for me to back up to give him about 200 feet to get out from the curb. I am tired. I sit and try to wait him out. He wins. I back the god damned car up, thinking all the while how I feel like taking a 20 foot start and ramming the hell out of such an idiot driver. Instead I get out and lock the car.
Outside the City has green-tagged the building, dated 1/22/94, according to inspector McCallin. Green means safe to occupy, only minor damage. Inside in a courtyard, on 1/23/94, Johnathan Langtau and Otto placed a yellow tag, which means that the building is repairable but that major expense is required, and that access may be unsafe and should be limited. Many of the apartments are occupied.
Latasha's apartment is lit by floodlights on an extension cord - there is no power yet. There are no windows - unless you can see through plywood. Plasterers are working frantically, and tell me the apartment will be ready tomorrow. I wonder where they'll get windows. There is very little glass available in LA. There is running water, the toilet works. There is not a single scrap of personal posession. Latasha tells us the manager threw out all her stuff - which I find amazing but possible.
We step out and I'm immediately surrounded by about fifteen people who all think the building is dangerous, that the yellow-,-tag inspector said the building would not last six months, and that the manager is having workmen cover up serious structural damage. They want me to inspect everything. I want to go home now.
We spend another half-hour discussing what people are afraid of, and how an inspector tells the difference between cosmetic cracks in stucco and serious structural movement. There is not a shred of evidence, at least in the areas I've seen, of structural separation. The foundation is undistrubed, the mechanicals connected, and no separations of framing. The crack patterns follow the tape lines in wallboard or are breaks in stucco. I explain this, and warn to watch out for falling plaster - it can hurt you even if the building itself is not falling.
Another tenant has me inspect #2 apartment - as the relief center team asked me to look at #2, #3, and Latasha's #4. Luckily #3 is locked. #2 has another melange of stuff-soup, for which she apologizes. I'm not inspecting stuff, it's ok. To me the apartment is fine, but needs some plaster repairs. To #21s tenant, it's fearsome. Indeed stucco cracks look terrible. Large gaps appear. We discuss how it's constructed and where cracks appear.
Next there's a not-very-friendly chat with the manager. He's had enough of inspectors. Some of the property managers and landlords are entirely focused on having someone say the building is OK, regardless of conditions. Latasha has already told us that the landlord refuses to return her security, and that he's already pressing for February's rent. I forget to ask the manager what happened to Latasha's clothes, furniture, pots and pans, towels, toothbrush, pictures, childrens' toys, and TV. Guarded to the do or by Latasha who's become a bit chatty, we escape to the car. Her friend still has not spoken. I am afraid to look at my front bumper.
Back at the center, a few more years passed in traffic, I write the description of damage, make condition yellow, which entitles her to a bit more than otherwise -- the unit is not habitable as is. Gunter Schwartz, an experienced Red Cross damage assessor, gives me a street sheet, and very detailed instruction on exactly what information goes where. We discuss and correct my damage description. One reason the Red Cross volunteers can arrive at a site and do anything useful amidst the chaos that attends any disaster is, Gunther explains, that regardless of where they come from, every Red Cross volunteer has exactly the same training.
Except of course, me. I have no Red Cross training. Gunter is from Charlotte. Marion Self, our center chief, is a leader who can charm anyone, and does so with me. Marion is from Atlanta. She and Gunter seem to know one another. They have already informed Gonzalo that I'm wanted at their center tomorrow. Gunter and Marion intend to rectify my lack of training. If Gonzalo Hernandez doesn't fire me for my morning's private venture, and if there's not a new damage assessment crisis tomorrow, I'll be back doing Spanish translation and reading naps with a magnifying glass.
Daniel F. Los Angeles CA Home of Hollywood and Universal Studios, Watts, Reginald Denny, and the January 17, 1994 NorthRidge earthquake.
1/28/94 6:07 AM from Ed Nisley Dan, your descriptions are getting more and more heartrending... I know you're a friendly kind'a guy, but you started out pretty detached from events and now they're right behind your eyes.
Suggestion: from everything I've read (having no personal experience) you are going to need some couseling when you get back to Po-'town. It'll probably be hard to find, given that Po-town doesn't have much experience with widespread disasters, but make the effort to link up with somebody who knows how to ask questions and give you some support. If you don't, the backlash from all that stress is going to make you even more bizarre than you usually are... and that's not to be taken lightly.
1/28/94 3:51 PM to E Nisley
Nyaah - I'm just relieving myself by dramatic writing. Now that the building has stopped shaking I can continue - things are fine at the ARC. Actually it's pretty neat - but of course there are moments of emotion - not to worry. I guess my dramatic
Romantic plot idea for a future short story [still waiting to be writtten]
Telephone call, technical inquiry
professional meeting face to face
at disaster hq - overtures for friendly talk only rebuffed
2d face leaves
1st works on
2d face returns
separate field work meet late
need to talk-unwind
plan dining out, research restaurants
high in hotel room, twenty stories up.
romance ? not really. shaky hotel
Hotel shakes, the buidling begins to weave back and forth; together, naked they stand in the darkness, listening to debris falling in the wall cavities. He moves towards the window wondering if it is possible to open it and jump.
A calm hand on his arm.
Nothing else happens.
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