Rocked but Ready: Santa Clarita Faces Major Earthquake
Emergency preparedness has always been a priority for the City of Santa Clarita — and thank goodness for that! For on January 17, 1994, at 4:31 a.m., Santa Clarita was jolted by a massive earthquake. City staff and volunteer amateur radio operators began assessing the damage and reporting to the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at City Hall. A State of Emergency was declared at 5:45 a.m. by the Director of Emergency Services, then-City Manager George A. Caravalho.
Then-Mayor George Pedersen stated, "We are trying to do everything we can to restore all the buildings to a safe and usable condition, and to repair the infrastructure, so that we are able to put things back in workable condition. We just want to get our City back under control again and operating."
At 6:30 a.m., it was determined that Sierra Highway was the only open road in and out of the Santa Clarita Valley. Route 14 and Interstate 5 were both closed due to bridge damage.
Due to the damage to City Hall, the Emergency Operations Center was moved out into the parking lot at 11:59 p.m. There, emergency operations could be monitored 24 hours a day, seven days a week by the residents, as they traveled the only east-west route open to traffic.
Numerous services were disrupted to many parts of the City. Repairs were coordinated with other emergency services representatives to restore them — including electricity, gas, water, and shelters. In Santa Clarita no deaths were attributed to the earthquake. However, one elderly person suffered a fatal heart attack shortly after the quake.
City staff ran "hot lines" 10 hours a day, receiving a high of 500 calls per hour. KBET (now, 1220-AM KHTS) was declared the official City radio station, as they changed their formatting to an on-line talk show to provide residents with minute-by-minute information.
Transportation was a major issue. On January 18, 1994, 600 residents used the Metrolink. Two days later, we had a new Metrolink station open, and at the peak, 23,000 residents were riding the Metrolink to get to work. On January 28 — just 11 days after the earthquake — a two-lane detour for the entire I-5 freeway opened and the train ridership decreased as the commuter bus ridership and carpools increased.
Five thousand block walls and 2,000 chimneys fell. One thousand, seven hundred mobile homes fell off their foundations and all bridges were damaged. With all of the debris from the ruins, recycling was very important to the City. A five-element debris removal plan was developed to handle the 240,000 tons of debris, 98 percent of which was recycled. It was estimated that there was over $400 million in damage to local businesses, and $29 million to City infrastructure.
One of the major reasons for the drive for the City's incorporation was emergency preparedness. The area had been isolated following the Sylmar earthquake, and response to the residents had been slow. It was believed that Santa Clarita would be isolated for a period of time following any future seismic event that affected the Newhall Pass.
The preparedness of the residents and staff played a large part in the rapid recovery of the area, as did Emergency Response and Recovery Management efforts. The rapid recovery was focused, energetic, and very successful, as was the recovery of Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) funds to assist the young city to rebuild its infrastructure, and quickly get life in Santa Clarita back to normal.
Perhaps one of the most amazing things to come out of the 1994 Northridge Earthquake was the "togetherness" that ensued. Community members, elected officials, emergency personnel, City staff and the business community joined as one, helping each other in providing support and supplies with survival in mind. Santa Clarita is a unique community because of the people who reside here, as demonstrated by the quake's theme, "We pulled together, not apart."
The successful response and recovery to the Northridge Earthquake elevated the City-resident relationship to an all-time high, and created an expectation of outstanding service to the community that was not present prior to this disaster.
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