The Northridge† quake was terrifying, even though I was living in Pittsburgh at the time. We were in the process of moving to the Boston area, and my husband had been home for the Martin Luther King Jr holiday weekend. As I was taking him to the airport, I turned on the radio for the traffic report, and instead heard news of a major earthquake affecting Northridge, Reseda, Tarzana, etc.— in short, places I had grown up in, and where my parents and siblings still lived.

When I got to the airport, my heart in my throat, I tried to call my family. The recorded message for the 818 area code was "Due to the earthquake in the area, your call cannot be completed as dialed." So I tried calling my brother in Santa Clarita; the recording for that area code: "Due to the mudslides in the area...."

My parents and siblings had all tried to call me while I was gone, but (@#!) the cassette tape in my answering machine had run out. (So much for my serving as "Communications Central" during emergencies!) It was hours before I was able to talk to any of them, but thankfully they were all OK. I was glued to TV coverage from the instant I got home (well, OK, from the instant I discovered that my answering machine tape had run out).

My parents' house sustained about $50K of damage, mostly from the chimneys exploding through the upstairs walls of one bedroom and the sitting room — but every wall of the house needed replastering (ironically enough, only one window broke). They were lucky: they had earthquake insurance (though with a $20K deductible); their house was one of seven out of 14 on their block still habitable; and they were able to get contractors in right away to fix the damage. (Other people waited for months and months.)

My siblings' homes escaped with minor damage — I think one of my brothers had a hot water heater fall over, and my sister lost part of the cinderblock fence in their back yard. However, it took awhile for gas and electricity to be restored in several sectors, so (if I recall correctly) most of them ended up going over to my parents (whose power was restored quickly, and whose gas was still in service, amazingly enough).

Since then, all my sibs have put (annoying) baby-locks on all cabinets and drawers, and battened down their water heaters and large pieces of furniture. I don't think anyone has anything heavy or loose mounted over their beds.

I was not able to go to California until sometime in November that year. Even then, 10 months later, there was still a lot of visible damage in some parts of the San Fernando Valley. Most striking to me was the damage to the main parking structure at Cal State Northridge: the pancaked concrete parking levels and the bizarrely twisted steel railings were astonishing and very sobering to behold. Such sheer power! (The library and many other buildings were still closed, and lots of classes were being held in the many trailers and temporary buildings dotting the campus.)

Even so, this wasn't "the big one" (catastrophe still pending).

† Turns out that the epicenter of this 6.7-magnitude quake was actually at the corner of Reseda Blvd and Strathern Street in Reseda — only two long blocks from my sister's house!