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The Northridge Earthquake Was 28 Years Ago, And It Looked Like This

A man in a plaid robe holds his head as a fire rages on he street behind him.
Ray Hudson reacts as a friend's home goes up in flames at the Oak Ridge Trailer Park in Sylmar on Jan. 17, 1994.
(Douglas C. Pizac
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Jan. 17 marks the 28th 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.

Jan. 17, 1994 | 4:31 a.m.

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 hit 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.


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

Two men inspect damage to cars and apartment complex after Northridge earthquake in Canoga Park. Federal inspectors reported that several hundred homes have been condemned and as many as 40,000 will need repairs. (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.

Firemen carry a janitorial worker who was rescued from a collapsed garage at the Northridge Mall. (Denis Poroy/AFP/Getty Images)

Cars lie smashed by the collapsed Interstate 5 connector in Sylmar on Jan. 17, 1994. (Jonathan Nourok/AFP/Getty Images)

Aykui Alaverdyan walks over rubble after taking some of her belongings from her Hollywood Boulevard apartment building on Jan. 20, 1994 that was destroyed in the Northridge earthquake. (Tim Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

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(Courtesy USGS archive)

A fire breaks out after the Northridge earthquake in Jan. 17, 1994 . (Courtesy USGS archives)

(Courtesy USGS archive)

(Courtesy USGS archive)

Cal State Northridge

(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.

Dormitory staircases at Cal State Northridge, damaged by the 1994 earthquake. (Courtesy CSUN University Archives)

CSUN's Science 4 building (now Magnolia Hall) suffered structural and cosmetic damage in the 1994 Northridge earthquake. (Courtesy CSUN University Archives)

State Of Emergency

(Courtesy USGS archive)

(Courtesy USGS archive)

(Courtesy USGS archive)

(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 rescue worker sits on curb in front of the heavily-damaged Northridge Meadows Apartments after a 14th body was removed following the Northridge earthquake. (Chris Wilkins/AFP/Getty Images)

A family sits beside the street in front of their destroyed home near the epicenter of the 1994 Northridge 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.

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)

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)


A mother and her children walk near a tent city at Winnetka Recreation Center on Jan. 22, 1994 as California National Guard step 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.

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 left homeless by the Northridge earthquake line up in Canoga Park to make phone calls in 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.

Families camp out in a city park after their homes were heavily damaged by the Northridge earthquake. (Jonathan Nourok/AFP/Getty Images)

Residents fill water containers from a tanker truck at Granada Hills High School the day after the 6.7-magnitude Northridge earthquake. (Chris Wilkins/AFP/Getty Images)

Presidential Visit

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."

Parishioners gather in a parking structure near St. Augustine's Episcopal Church in Santa Monica for Sunday services on Jan. 23, 1994. The church building has been determined to be unsafe after the earthquake. (Tim Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

The Cost

A bulldozer tearing down a section of the Santa Monica Freeway that collapsed during the Northridge earthquake. (Tim Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

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)

Part of a collection of USGS still images taken after the January 17, 1994 Northridge earthquake highlighting the damage to buildings and infrastructure. (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.