Luck tempers misfortune as highway collapses on warehouse L.A. EARTHQUAKE--AFTERSHOCK

January 18, 1994|By Jean Thompson | Jean Thompson,Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES -- First light yesterday revealed Samuel Rubin's luck as well as his misfortune.

His little piece of the earthquake's drama reflected the power, tragedy -- and even the mercy -- of nature being felt in the Los Angeles basin.

Tremors shook a freeway ramp and overpass off its supports, causing them to crush Mr. Rubin's warehouse business below.

The cement block guardhouse, where managers sleep at night, was spared. No one was injured when the east and west bound lanes of the I-10, the Santa Monica Freeway collapsed on Mr. Rubin's Self-Storage Co.

"It was like someone squashing a banana into the ground," said Mr. Rubin. The weight of the span hammered some of the warehouse's cylindrical supports into the ground like nails.

Other supports were peeled like bananas as the freeway settled onto the roof of Mr. Rubin's 326 self-service storage garages.

It didn't take long for a noisy throng of despairing renters and sightseers to press against the chain-link fence around Mr. Rubin's property. Most of the group had hiked to the storage company, even though police had cordoned off the half-mile section of collapsed freeway.

"I want to take my stuff out now," shouted a man in his 30s, fearing that his storage garage might be looted.

"Has there been any looting?" another man asked of Mr. Rubin. "Are you going to hire security?"

"Can't you see it's not safe?" Mr. Rubin snapped at the crowd.

Throughout the day, smaller aftershocks caused chunks of concrete to continue falling from a section of the overpass still tenuously standing.

"There is nothing we can do. The state has advised us nobody gets on the property without their permission," said Mr. Rubin.

At the front gate, John Martin gripped the fence as he described his loss:

"Everything. Everything, my computer, my furniture, my clothes -- all except what I have on me and in my suitcase. I put everything in storage I'd be gone for four months on a film shoot. And now my apartment is under the freeway.

"I'm laughing but I'm still in shock. I don't know what I'm gonna do."

The storage business was built in 1974 under an on-ramp to the freeway, even though the weakness of the ramp and overpass was no secret, Mr. Rubin said.

California Department of Transportation engineers had notified him of plans to buttress the ramp and the overpass this year, possibly in June.

Francisco Olivas, a transportation department representative at the disaster site, confirmed that the overpass was slated for "retrofitting."

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