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Climate and Environment

Remembering What The 6.7 Northridge Earthquake Looked Like 29 Years After It Caused Widespread Destruction

A burned pickup truck blocks a street with a power pole on fire beyond it
Damage caused by the Jan. 17, 1995 Northridge earthquake.
(Courtesy USGS archives)
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Jan. 17 marks the 29th anniversary of the devastating Northridge earthquake, and we're taking a look back through photos at the damage it caused — and the humanity that shone through despite the destruction.

The quake killed 58 people, injured more than 9,000, displaced 125,000 residents and damaged or destroyed more than 82,000 buildings in Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange and San Bernardino counties.

As you scroll through images showing what happened in 1994, keep in mind that the quake wasn't even close to The Big One that's due to strike Southern California. We don't want to scare you, we want to help you survive. Listen to our podcast and get ready.

Quake hits at 4:31 a.m.

A crumbled facade of a building reads Kaiser Permanente as people walk past.
A resident and a cameraman look at damage to the Kaiser Permanente Building following the Northridge earthquake on Jan. 17, 1994.
(Hal Garb/AFP/Getty Images)
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A 6.7 magnitude earthquake hits the Los Angeles area, centered in San Fernando Valley's Northridge neighborhood. The epicenter was later determined to be near Wilbur Avenue and Arminta Street, about a mile from the Cal State Northridge campus.

Moments after the initial rumble, a 5.9 aftershock struck. Numerous aftershocks followed for months, though most were so small they weren't noticeable.

Earthquake prep resources

Flames rise from a street at night as two people cross.
Firefighters cross a street as a broken 16-inch gas main burns in the background, after the Jan. 17, 1994 quake. (Hal Garb/AFP/Getty Images)

Devastation and Chaos

A row of cars is flattened underneath a multi-story building that collapsed.
Two men inspect damage to cars and an apartment complex after the earthquake.
(Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images))

Structures and homes were leveled. Freeways collapsed. Apartment buildings crushed vehicles parked in carports below. Fires burned all over the city as gas lines ruptured. Thousands of Angelenos were instantly homeless and had no idea what to do.

A group of emergency workers, most in yellow headgear, carry a person on a gurney.
Firemen carry a janitorial worker who was rescued from a collapsed garage at the Northridge Mall.
(Denis Poroy/AFP/Getty Images)
A freeway overpass is in ruins with a car on top and another visible below. One column of the overpass is standing.
Cars lie smashed by the collapsed Interstate 5 connector in Sylmar on Jan. 17, 1994. (Jonathan Nourok/AFP/Getty Images)
A brick building is missing most of one side. It's 4 stories high.
Aykui Alaverdyan walks over rubble after taking some of her belongings from her Hollywood Boulevard apartment building that was destroyed in the earthquake.
(Tim Clary/AFP/Getty Images)
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Jumbled remains of a parking lot.
Courtesy USGS archive
A sinkhole in a street with flames nearby and toppled power poles to the rear.
A fire breaks out after the earthquake.
( Courtesy USGS archives)
Cars are flattened under stucco apartment structures
Courtesy USGS archive
A storefront has collapsed with the right side crumpled.
Courtesy USGS archive

Cal State Northridge

A parking structure is bent over with jumbled stairs visible at the right.
Courtesy USGS archive

The destruction on CSUN's campus was extensive and dramatic. A large parking structure collapsed onto itself, its giant columns bent backward by the force of the quake. A fire broke out in a science building. The university's Oviatt Library sustained damage and most of its books were dumped onto the floor. A second library building was so decimated it had to be demolished.

Staff and faculty worked out of tents that became their temporary offices and information center. Despite the quake, the spring 1994 semester started just two weeks later than originally scheduled. The temblor caused more than $400 million in damage and the reconstruction wasn't officially completed until August 2007.

Stairs and balconies have fallen off a multi-story stucco building.
Dormitory staircases at Cal State Northridge damaged by the earthquake.
(Courtesy CSUN University Archives))
Dark fracture lines thread through the exterior of a building with Science 4 written on its side.
CSUN's Science 4 building (now Magnolia Hall) suffered structural and cosmetic damage in the earthquake.
(Courtesy CSUN University Archives)

State Of Emergency

A deep fracture runs through the exterior of a building that's been tagged "For rent $10 a month" and GAS stay out
(Courtesy USGS archive)
An exposed concrete column and steel rods that were part of the column.
(Courtesy USGS archive)
The side of a brick building is missing, with columns visible inside.
(Courtesy USGS archive)
A hilly area appears fractured.
Courtesy USGS archive

Within 5 ½ hours of the initial quake, authorities were able to get all active fires under control, helping to prevent further damage.

Multiple highways had to be closed due to the damage and surface streets were used as detours. Thousands of residents were without water and electricity as rescue crews began searching the rubble for survivors.

A person in a yellow coat and cap sits on a curb near a lawn full of debris
A rescue worker sits in front of the heavily-damaged Northridge Meadows Apartments after a 14th body was removed following the earthquake.
(Chris Wilkins/AFP/Getty Images)
An Asian family sits outside with one woman covered in blankets and coats.
A family sits beside the street in front of their destroyed home near the epicenter of the earthquake.
(Denis Poroy/AFP/Getty Images)

Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan officially declared a state of emergency about an hour after the quake. That was followed by California Gov. Pete Wilson also declaring one, making it easier for the area to get state resources.

That afternoon, President Bill Clinton declared a national disaster for Los Angeles County, helping to direct federal resources to the region.

People camp on a lawn.
Evan Smith hugs his dog Samantha as his sister Emily plays solitaire to pass the time in their front yard encampment in Granada Hills. The family's home was heavily damaged in the earthquake and they lived in the front yard until power and water was restored.
(Chris Wilkins/AFP/Getty Images)
Two people in coats huddle around a cooler and radio outside.
Juadulupe Flores and her 4-year-old daughter Yijan share breakfast on Jan. 18, 1994 after having camped in Dearborn Park overnight. Thousands of people slept outside, fearing powerful aftershocks following the previous day's temblor.
(Tim Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

Recovery

Canvas army tents sit on a grassy lawn.
A mother and her children walk near a tent city at Winnetka Recreation Center on Jan. 22, 1994 as California National Guard set up the shelters for the thousands of Angelenos made homeless by the quake.
(Tim Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

The California National Guard was deployed to assist help with recovery efforts and maintain order. Tent cities went up at parks and other open spaces for thousands of displaced Angelenos.

Men in camouflage uniforms play soccer with children.
National Guard troops play soccer with children at a campground at Lanark Park. The National Guard erected tent cities to house thousands of earthquake refugees living in the area parks amid the threat of rain.
(Tim Clary/AFP/Getty Images)
People line up to use a bank of payphones. A sign reads: 10 minutos solamente.
People left homeless by the Northridge earthquake line up in Canoga Park to make phone calls at a remote telephone facility.
(Mike Nelson/AFP/Getty Images)

Many people refuse to return to their homes, fearing another earthquake. Some slept on their lawns or in their cars. The quake broke water pipes across the region, and officials told people to boil drinking water. Residents kept bottles and jugs to fill up when water trucks rolled in.

People gather near cars and sleep on a lawn.
Families camp out in a city park after their homes were heavily damaged by the earthquake.
(Jonathan Nourok/AFP/Getty Images)
People fill water jugs.
Residents fill water containers from a tanker truck at Granada Hills High School the day after the earthquake.
(Chris Wilkins/AFP/Getty Images)

Presidential Visit

A man with light-tone skin and a sad expression — President Bill Clinton — raises his right hand to wave to a crown. He's surrounded by other white men.
President Bill Clinton waves to residents on Jan. 19, 1994 during a tour of earthquake-stricken areas.
(Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)

President Clinton visited Los Angeles two days after the quake touring damaged roadways and surveying the urban destruction.

"This is a national problem. We have a national responsibility," Clinton told local officials in a hangar at Burbank Airport, according to the L.A. Times. "This is something we intend to stay with until the job is over."

Rows of people on a patio attend an outdoor mass. A green lawn is visible above.
Parishioners gather in a parking structure near St. Augustine's Episcopal Church in Santa Monica for Sunday services on Jan. 23, 1994. The church was determined to be unsafe after the earthquake.
(Tim Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

The Cost

A bulldozer works on a heavily damaged overpass with a sign reading Santa Monica Freeway East.
A bulldozer tearing down a section of the Santa Monica Freeway that collapsed during the earthquake.
(Tim Clary/AFP/Getty Images)
A freeway overpass is missing its left side, which is now debris on the ground below.
Heavy equipment prepares for moving portions of Interstate 5 as an abandoned truck rests on the damaged structure on Jan. 18, 1994.
(Tim Clary/AFP/Getty Images)
A demolished road has a car visible at the right side.
(USGS)

Along with the dozens killed and thousands hurt, the quake caused $20 billion in damage. This video posted by Caltrans shows the scope of the destruction to the region's freeway system and all the work put in to repair the roadways.

Though the region has made strides in retrofitting and the city recently launched a quake alert app, the Big One is still coming — and it'll be at least 44 times stronger than Northridge.

To learn more and find out how to prepare your home, your family and yourself, read our survival guide here.

What questions do you have about Southern California?

Updated January 18, 2022 at 9:35 AM PST
This story was originally published in 2019 on the 25th anniversary of the Northridge earthquake.
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