L.A. is shaken up, but not out of control L.A. EARTHQUAKE -- AFTERSHOCK

January 19, 1994|By Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES -- Manuel Medrano will not go back inside the apartment building.

Too many cracks in the walls, he says. And too much fear.

So he and his wife, three children and five cousins have moved across the street to the park at Reseda Recreation Center.

They live in two trucks in center field.

And they are not alone.

"This is something new to me," Mr. Medrano says before lunch yesterday. "I have seen earthquakes. But nothing like this. And I have never been homeless."

This is Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley -- the day after the Nearly Big One shook a city and its soul.

These are the sights and sounds of a city fighting back from a pre-dawn Monday morning earthquake that registered 6.6 on the Richter scale and exacted damage both physical and psychic.

Label it L.A. out of order.

But not out of control.

*

The fast-food joints and car dealerships along Reseda Boulevard are shut down.

No water. No power. No windows.

But there is life just down the street in the park, where more than 200 cars and 500 people are gathered, preparing to spend a second night away from their apartments and under the stars.

Charcoal and wood fires send puffs of smoke into the bright blue sky. Water bottles, soda bottles, toys, blankets, soccer balls, lawn chairs, even a couple of old car seats, litter the grounds.

And there is the sweet sound of salsa music echoing from car to car.

L The Medranos brought what they could from across the street.

There is a walker for the baby, and toys for the two toddlers, and there is chicken cooking on a hot plate.

A portable generator hums in the background.

On Monday night, they slept inside a van with an assortment of cousins and in-laws.

"Eight people, I think," says Mr. Medrano, a mechanic. "There is nothing we can do but this. But thank God all of my family is safe."

Nearby, Farhad Behziad, who moved from Tehran, Iran, four years ago, sells soda and ice cream from his truck.

"I am not gouging anyone," he says. "I love these people. They are my neighbors. Here, I buy ice cream for 40 cents and I sell it for 50 cents. And sodas, too. Just 50 cents. It is only right."

Jorge Asturias, 10 years old, agrees.

He and his 5-year-old sister Rachel lick Popsicles in the sun.

"It was terrible last night," Jorge says. "I couldn't sleep. It was cold. I was scared another big earthquake would come back."

Monday morning's earthquake shook Jorge from his sleep and he rushed into his parents' bedroom and hugged his mother tight.

"So scared," he says. "We put on our jackets and left the house and we haven't come back."

Yesterday, he missed school. And he was sad.

"I can't wait to go back," he says.

Finally, he takes his sister's hand and walks back to his home.

A car in a field.

*

The first floor is gone. Buried. The second-floor balconies touch the ground. The third floor is twisted, with pylons cracking through the roof.

It looks like a crushed cardboard box. But it is an apartment complex, Northridge Meadows, symbol of an earthquake's destruction, burial ground of 16 victims.

And now, the media have taken over.

There are more satellite trucks than fire trucks. A reporter from MTV, dressed in black jeans, a black tank top, and black leather vest that still manages to reveal her belly button, is talking to a survivor.

Armed National Guardsmen patrol the street. Tourists wander by and aim their video cameras at an apartment turned burial ground.

Neighbors stand and look at the crushed stucco.

And survivors return to tell their stories.

Keith and Hannah Spencer, a young college couple, had spent the previous morning pulling victims from the apartment building's rubble.

Now, they are heroes.

The men with the minicams fight for position to hear their words.

"We lost everything," he says. "But what does it matter?"

"It's like, one minute you're living, and the next, you don't know what is going on," she says.

Over and over, the survivors tell their tales. But when asked if they knew any of the victims, they all shake their heads, no.

Rosalie Allard, 60, is across the street from the building and she is trembling. She wears bedroom slippers, blue jeans and a blue sweater. Her husband, Charles, 58, is too ill and scared to go back.

Mrs. Allard tells of college students who broke down the door to their apartment, of a tiny speck of a female student who carried Mr. Allard from the rubble, of the terror of an early morning when the ground shook and neighbors whose names she never knew died.

She is an artist desperate to get into her third-floor apartment to retrieve her 100 canvases. And she is searching for her cat, Missy.

"It made us all closer in a way," she says. "It makes us realize the most important thing was getting out alive."

*

Marcelo Faibisencl and his wife, Alison, sit inside a bread truck parked at the North Hills Shopping Center, corner of Devonshire and Balboa, near the quake's epicenter.

He has lived in Southern California for 30 years and delivered bread for 30 days.

And he has never seen anything like this.

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