A Shaking Memory

On January 17th, 1994, at 4:31 AM, a magnitude 6.7 earthquake hit the Northridge area in the northern part of the San Fernando Valley. At the time, I was living in a house in Valley Village, at the southernmost end of the valley. The Hollywood Hills were behind my house, about 10 streets away, and, on the other side of those hills was the big Hollywood sign.

Why do these things always happen in the middle of the night?

My dogs, who were usually heavier sleepers than me, started howling and barking and jumping on the bed. I woke, confused, in the dark, trying to understand what had them so upset. I remember so clearly the incredible, loud noise that surrounded us. I was terrified that a plane was coming down on top of us, it sounded that loud.

And then it hit.

The violent shaking was horrendous. Instead of a back and forth motion, it was more up and down. I tried desperately to get out of my bed but couldn’t because the ground kept falling away from me. Finally, on the third try I jumped just as the ground was coming up and I was launched across the room into a window. Thankfully, it did not shatter. Turning around something slammed hard into my chest, and, it was the TV that had been sitting on the bureau.

Dropping that, I ran out of the room as things were still shaking. In a matter of seconds, I had managed to get my fire extinguisher and all three dogs out of the front door.

It really isn’t the best idea, to try and run out of a house held in the shaking fist of a major earthquake, but, I didn’t want to be buried alive in case it collapsed. The horrendous noise was deafening me, and, I learned later that it was all of the cars shaking, windows smashing, pools emptying, transformers exploding, and miles and miles of asphalt between me and the epicenter 7 miles away that created the cacophony.

As I stood there, in the dark, grasping my fire extinguisher to my chest with 3 shaking dogs pressed tightly up against my legs my neighbor from next door came flying into the courtyard.

“OK good, you made it out! You OK?”

I mumbled yes, finding it too difficult to find my voice, so just kept nodding my head up and down.

A second later, he had looked up and said.

“Wow, look at all of the stars.”

I looked up as well and they were all there. Billions and billions of them, an endless carpet of crystals strewn across the sky. Seeing them was actually a remarkable thing in Los Angeles, because, there was so much light projecting up from the city at night that they were always blotted out.

My neighbor and I looked at each other, and, realized at the same time that power must be out everywhere.

As the quake died down, and, the deafening noise dissipated to a whisper we both wondered, was the city still standing?

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The greatness of a nation and it's moral progress can be judged by the way it's animals are treated - Mahatma Ghandi

©  Briar Lee Mitchell, 2014