Kaiser Building Collapse, Northridge Earthquake 1994

I was there. I was awakened by the floor beneath me smashing up into the back of my head repeatedly, like Lucifer’s Jackhammer under the house. I was the tenant of a second floor duplex, and having recently moved in, I had no bed yet. My bed was a pile of blankets next to the wall. The noise of the double-hung sash windows opening and slamming shut was one of the loudest I’d ever heard. It was like a Ma Deuce going off in the next room.

The 1994 Northridge Earthquake caught everyone by surprise. At the Northridge Meadows apartment complex, 16 people died when the first floor pancaked into a 2 foot high compressed ruble stack. On my way to check on my mother’s place, I passed 3 major natural gas pockets from ruptured lines.

From LAfire.com

The northern horizon was orange with the glow of a massive natural gas fire. Just about everywhere I looked I saw damaged and destroyed buildings. I was in the center of the valley, near the epicenter.

After the sun rose, and the valley began to deal with the destruction, I took a tour. It began around 6:30 am. I visited several sites including downed apartments and condos where people were working to recover others, the Northridge Fashion Center, where Bullocks was opened up as if hit by a pair of smart bombs, and the intersection of Tampa and Nordhoff where the First Interstate building was wrecked, Marshall’s roof collapsed and where the entire back wall of Levitz furniture fell over onto the railroad tracks, leaving their entire inventory open to looting.

From Wikimedia

I happened across the Kaiser Building at Chattsworth and Balboa Blvds. The second floor of the building had collapsed, with the 3 upper floors resting on its debris. At first look, the building looked as if the ends had sloughed off. The aluminum framing on the long walls had buckled. It wasn’t until the demolition started that anyone passing by could see what happened inside.

The first thing the demo crews did was to remove the building’s outer sheathing. Both ends and the side metal and glass were stripped away. What was left was the completely exposed concrete structure of posts, beams and floors. The second floor, under the weight off the rest of the building, was limited to the height of desks, filing cabinets and other debris and furniture… about 3 feet high. I noticed immediately that there was an absolutely amazing amount of free space voids within that mess – voids that would allow someone to survive. The second thing I noticed was that the largest visible voids were under and next to heavy desks.

My last meaningful observation was this: When faced with a moving structure, it is a good idea to stay away from doorways and glass, and get on the floor next to heavy furniture. If there is no way outside, (and I still believe in getting out if you can.. IF you CAN…) then get your precious tail down and next to cover. If the ceiling comes down in your home or business, unless it is some huge building, I don’t think it will come down harder than 3 complete floors of concrete and equipment.

I was looking for the photos I took from that morning, and later. I couldn’t locate them. When I do, I’ll post them.

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