Support for LAist comes from
We Explain L.A.
Stay Connected

Share This

This is an archival story that predates current editorial management.

This archival content was written, edited, and published prior to LAist's acquisition by its current owner, Southern California Public Radio ("SCPR"). Content, such as language choice and subject matter, in archival articles therefore may not align with SCPR's current editorial standards. To learn more about those standards and why we make this distinction, please click here.


Things You Might Not Have Known About The Northridge Earthquake

Before you
Dear reader, we're asking you to help us keep local news available for all. Your tax-deductible financial support keeps our stories free to read, instead of hidden behind paywalls. We believe when reliable local reporting is widely available, the entire community benefits. Thank you for investing in your neighborhood.

It's been twenty years since the Northridge Earthquake rocked Los Angeles. We dug into the archives to find pictures and video of the devastation centered in the San Fernando Valley, facts about the temblor and a review how far we've come since then—and how far we have to go when it comes to being prepared for the next biggie. Some of your were around and were old enough to remember this all in vivid detail—we welcome your stories in the comments.

It lasted eight seconds.

The earthquake struck just five seconds before 4:31 a.m. on January 17, 1994. That was a Monday and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The magnitude 6.7 earthquake was felt as far away as Las Vegas and Baja California. The shaking lasted eight seconds, though its reverberations were felt for as long as 30 seconds in some places. Despite the earthquake's name, the fault was actually under 11 miles under Reseda. It was on a blind thrust fault, which means that the fault doesn't reach the earth's surface. No one knew it existed until it started shaking, CNN says. It was the largest major earthquake to strike an urban area since the Long Beach earthquake in 1933.

The largest cause of death was heart attacks.

Support for LAist comes from

One study said that 72 people died as a result of the quake: 30 people died from heart attacks, 22 people died because of structural failure (meaning a major part of a building collapsed), 7 died from nonstructural failure and 5 people fell to their deaths. Some people were electrocuted by fallen power lines. Others were crushed and asphyxiated under their belongings. Some people on respirators died when the power went out. One woman died of smoke inhalation when a gas line ruptured and started a fire. Some people died in traffic accidents because the traffic signals went out.

The deadliest collapse was at Northridge Meadows Apartments. Sixteen people were killed when the top two floors of the Northridge Meadows Apartments collapsed on top of the first floor. Building officials at the time concluded that although the building was up to codes—those codes didn't provide the safety they should have.

Altogether there were 11,846 hospitalized for earthquake-related injuries in Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura Counties. 5,938 of the injured were in the east San Fernando Valley, and 3,283 of the injured were in the west San Fernando Valley.

Some residents waited out aftershocks in parks:

It was the costliest U.S. disaster in history at that time.

There are different estimates, but the quake reportedly caused $25 billion in damage, which made it the costliest U.S. natural disaster at the time, according to the Associated Press. (Hurricane Katrina later broke that record.) Government provided $13 billion in aid. 114,039 structures were damaged in Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura Counties, business departments told City News Service.

Some of the buildings were damaged by the quake, others by fires in the aftermath:

Every building on the Cal State Northridge campus was damaged just 17 days before the spring semester was scheduled to start.

Support for LAist comes from

Fortunately, class wasn't in session at the time of the quake. But the campus didn't have much time to prepare for the new semester. The school decided not to cancel the semester and instead, they brought in 335 temporary structures and postponed the start of the semester by two weeks. They held classes outside in some cases. Bill Clinton called into the campus and commended the campus' "California spirit" that had made the spring semester possible. This video (as well as some of the photos above) shows the damaged libraries, laboratories and a partially collapsed parking structure.

Some of the issues from the quake have been addressed—but not all of them.

In the years since Northridge, earthquake standards were tightened and many crucial buildings have been retrofitted. But many experts say that many buildings aren't prepared for the next Big One, according to the Daily News. Many hospitals—which play a crucial role in the aftermath of earthquakes—have been retrofitted, but one in four acute-care hospitals in Los Angeles is at risk of collapse in a major quake, according to the state Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development. 200 wood-frame "soft-story" apartments were damaged in the Northridge quake, and officials say that these kinds of buildings are still at risk when the next one strikes. Older concrete high-rises and mobile homes are also at risk.

Experts say that you shouldn't expect FEMA to bail you out in the days after a major disaster. Let the 20th anniversary of the disaster be a reminder to us to stock up on food, water and medical supplies not if but when the next one strikes.