Northridge Earthquake 20 Years Ago

Apartment buildings which collapsed during the Northridge earthquake are photographed on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 1994, in Los Angeles. (Young Kwak)

Apartment buildings which collapsed during the Northridge earthquake are photographed on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 1994, in Los Angeles. (Young Kwak)

I was flung off my bed and woke up standing. A saw a large flash outside. A momentary silence was broken by what sounded like an explosion. The whole house shook violently and I immediately fell. I could hear things breaking all around me. The house rolled and bounced and I thought it would collapse. I could hear my mother and sister screaming in other parts of the house. The shaking didn’t stop.

What seemed like an hour of shaking stopped as suddenly as it started. It was the morning of Tuesday, January 17, 1994. I would later find out it was 4:31AM. A magnitude 6.7 earthquake centered in Northridge, California killed 57 people and injured thousands of others. Many others were displaced as their homes and apartments were destroyed.

I stayed with my family for a little while that morning. After the sun came up, I left to photograph. I travelled around the San Fernando Valley, where I lived, for several days. I visited an apartment building where the first floor was pancaked due to the shaking. Many apartments with false first floors also collapsed. The false first floors were often used as carports. Entire homes burned down due to ignited gas leaks. Parts of the Northridge Mall had collapsed.

I returned home in the evening. My family slept in the living room for a few weeks. We felt uncomfortable leaving each other at night, as though the spooky earthquake spirit would attack if we were separated. We had no electricity or running water.

We were only a few miles from the epicenter. So, we ended up not having utilities for a while. We relied on friends who lived farther away to clean up. Don’t even ask about how we went to the bathroom.

We used what resources we had. We could also leave the area to purchase what we needed, including food and water, as the region began to recover.

The ground seemed to shake continuously for weeks after the main earthquake. Every time the ground shook, everybody stopped what they were doing as if to wonder if that was going to be an even larger earthquake. I remembered working in a darkroom in the basement of Kerckhoff Hall at UCLA, where I was a student. The building had been declared off-limits, due to an unstable turret on top of the building. But, I wanted to develop my film. Each time the ground shook, I wondered if that turret would fall.

A few photos were published, including a couple in the UCLA yearbook. I worked on a story for a newsmagazine at UCLA. I think about a dozen photographers took the same shot of the car crushed with the “Easy Does It” bumper sticker on it. But the following photos, for the most part, have never been shown.

Apartment buildings which collapsed during the Northridge earthquake are photographed on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 1994, in Los Angeles. (Young Kwak)

Apartment buildings which collapsed during the Northridge earthquake are photographed on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 1994, in Los Angeles. (Young Kwak)

Cars crushed by an apartment building are photographed during aftermath of the Northridge earthquake on Tuesday, Jan. 20 1994, in Los Angeles. (Young Kwak)

Cars crushed by an apartment building are photographed during aftermath of the Northridge earthquake on Tuesday, Jan. 20 1994, in Los Angeles. (Young Kwak)

A car crushed by an apartment building is photographed during aftermath of the Northridge earthquake on Tuesday, Jan. 20 1994, in Los Angeles. (Young Kwak)

A car crushed by an apartment building is photographed during aftermath of the Northridge earthquake on Tuesday, Jan. 20 1994, in Los Angeles. (Young Kwak)

A Northridge Mall parking garage which collapsed during the Northridge earthquake is photographed on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 1994, in Los Angeles. (Young Kwak)

A Northridge Mall parking garage which collapsed during the Northridge earthquake is photographed on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 1994, in Los Angeles. (Young Kwak)

National Guard personnel direct traffic during the aftermath of the Northridge earthquake on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 1994, in Los Angeles. (Young Kwak)

National Guard personnel direct traffic during the aftermath of the Northridge earthquake on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 1994, in Los Angeles. (Young Kwak)

A family is interviewed by a TV station over the remains of their home after the Northridge earthquake on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 1994, in Los Angeles. (Young Kwak)

A family is interviewed by a TV station over the remains of their home after the Northridge earthquake on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 1994, in Los Angeles. (Young Kwak)

Firefighters battle a fire at an apartment building which collapsed during the Northridge earthquake, on Friday, Jan. 21, 1994, in Los Angeles. (Young Kwak)

Firefighters battle a fire at an apartment building which collapsed during the Northridge earthquake, on Friday, Jan. 21, 1994, in Los Angeles. (Young Kwak)

Firefighters battle a fire at an apartment building which collapsed during the Northridge earthquake, on Friday, Jan. 21, 1994, in Los Angeles. (Young Kwak)

Firefighters battle a fire at an apartment building which collapsed during the Northridge earthquake, on Friday, Jan. 21, 1994, in Los Angeles. (Young Kwak)

A woman speaks at an aid center for those affected by the Northridge earthquake, on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 1994, in Los Angeles. (Young Kwak)

A woman speaks at an aid center for those affected by the Northridge earthquake, on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 1994, in Los Angeles. (Young Kwak)

A temporary refuge for those affected by the Northridge earthquake at Lanark Recreation Center is photographed, on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 1994, in Los Angeles. (Young Kwak)

A temporary refuge for those affected by the Northridge earthquake at Lanark Recreation Center is photographed, on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 1994, in Los Angeles. (Young Kwak)

A family stands at Lanark Recreation Center, a temporary refuge for those affected by the Northridge earthquake, on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 1994, in Los Angeles. (Young Kwak)

A family stands at Lanark Recreation Center, a temporary refuge for those affected by the Northridge earthquake, on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 1994, in Los Angeles. (Young Kwak)

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