19 April 2006

Yesterday being the 100th anniversary of the San Francisco quake of 1906, I ran into all sorts of new coverage while reading the dailies I have delivered to my inbox. One, from Space.com, included a reference to the San Fernando quake of 1971, and all of the nightmare of that event smacked me so hard it took me a few hours to stop crying.

I was 14 years old and having always been an early riser, was lying on the sofa in the living room watching early am L.A. TV (one of the few things about the late twentieth century I love is TV; OK, Caller ID is pretty cool, too) as the program did a spot on the shape of area VA hospitals.

The spot had just started talking about the one in Sylmar; the reporter was doing her feed from in front of the hospital so the camera had a great shot of the hospital behind her.

Too great.

As the 'quake began I remember thinking, "What the...?" and the camera seemed to be shaking and rolling in time with what was going on at my house. Stunned, I stayed on the couch, conveniently located under a large stabilizing beam across the living room ceiling. Our house, built in the late 1800's, had been built on 'rockers' and as such, merely gently swayed with the 'quake instead of jumping and twisting-we sustained NO damage, not even a book out of place in the cases. Even the carriage house on the back half of the large property we lived on and which my older sister and her husband had converted into a cottage went without damage through the seemingly forever 'quake.

And when the quake was over, I was determined to 'get the hell out of Dodge' just as bloody soon as I could! (I have an earthquake story from my first life, and one from a subsequent life-both memories came rushing back to me that February morning in 1971-I HATE 'quakes and I am not especially fond of volcanoes either!) Three years later, I was sooooooooo outta there!

But what I never forgot, and what has truly been the nightmare to me since that morning, was the sight of the front of the VA hospital, built in 1926, collapsing, and patients shooting out of the wall-less front into the air, on their hospital beds, to their deaths. On camera, as the reporter screamed, and the cameraman tried to decide, obvious from his camera direction, if he should continue filming the scene. Over 45 people died there that horrific morning.

I didn't try to put the scene out of my head, I just tried to get on with the clean-up. We took truck loads of relief supplies into the San Fernando Valley; my step-mother rented a couple of U-Hauls, parked them in front of our house and put a sign on them saying we were accepting donations. Those trucks filled fast, our first load went the next morning after the quake.

Yesterday I finally found out what happened to the Sylmar VA hospital. The new knowledge has and has not been a comfort.

The government chose not to rebuild the hospital. Instead they turned the site into a Veterans Memorial park.

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