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WOW! * Utah Earthquake * 1971 Sylmar Memories
MARCH 18, 2020 - Wow! Although shaken, we are okay here in Northern Utah. Here in Northern Utah we just experienced a 5.7 magnitude earthquake that was centered just 25 miles north of us in Magna, Utah at 7:09 AM on March 18, 2020. Watching the reactions on the local news of those who have never been through an earthquake is very eerie.
My initial response was, "This is an earthquake!" I jumped towards my office door and headed up the stairs to make sure that Shelly was okay. Then I made a call to Mom. At 89 years of age, I felt comfort checking on her and making sure she was okay.
The comfort comes from our mutual remembrance from 1971 when she frantically ran through our home just before 6 AM trying to wake us kids and get us safely under the dining room table. Accompanied by her yelling was a loud rumbling that I remember sounding like an avalanche. It lasted for a long minute, and I was terrified.
Terrified is also the reaction of the Utah Channel 2 news reporters right now. It has been 16 minutes, but these reporters are frantic. They just experienced a major quake, by Utah standards, but it is minor for Southern California. As it happened Ron Bird yelled, "It's a freakin earthquake!" Mary Nickles is still visibly worried. The outside traveling reporters are totally losing it on air. Morgan Saxton has just totally wigged out as she has jumped out of the news vehicle and is trying to capture the reactions. She will look back on that footage and realize that she was doing little to calm the fears of TV watchers as the adrenaline raced through her body. As I am watching their reactions, I am flashing back in my mind to almost 50 years ago when I first felt the unsteadiness of the earth. Yes, I have been close to three major quakes and each left their own impression upon me.
My heart still races, but I am definitely jaded in my response.
Yes, my initiation to major earthquakes was on February 9, 1971. I remember that day the same way that all my nearby friends, family, and neighbors will remember today, March 18, 2020. The human fear reaction is real and includes the realization that we are not ultimately in control. We are at the mercy of nature. But the initial earthquake is very unfair, as they are accompanied by hundreds of aftershocks to remind us of what we just went through. It is not a one and done experience... "We are having another one!" was heard several times over the local news broadcast. The reporters are still terrified and physically shaking.
The earthquake struck at 5:59 AM. It lasted nearly a minute and was centered in Sylmar, California, just about 25 miles north of where we lived in Highland Park, California (just east of Dodger's Stadium). 26 people died in the Sylmar quake and my memory is that it was rated a 7.1. The truth is that it was only a 6.5, but for some reason my brain has it etched in my mind as a 7.1. Yes, my mind has embellished the magnitude of the event, but the memories etched in my soul are real. Since I was just 9 and a half years old you will have to cut me a little slack.
Mom and Dad continued to get ready for work and they drove off to Ralph M. Parsons in Pasadena, California, while taking my sister Becky to the babysitter, and leaving me all alone at our house. Public school was canceled and I got the joy of experiencing the hundreds of aftershocks alone. Each brought fear to my young soul.
I remember that it was a clear blue sky day because I remember spending lots of time outside on my Stingray bicycle riding around in front of the house. I was learning to ride wheelies up Jessica Drive and had currently mastered 30-foot long wheelies. Our goal was about 300 feet to reach the top of the uphill street. I remember seeing windows shake, but the fear of being crushed while being inside was alleviated and the rolling on wheels helped me escape the constant worry of the ground moving again. The window shake and rattle of the white two-story stucco home across the street from our home was my barometer. I wanted to cry, but I remember just having to tough it out. I do not remember playing with any friends that day. I remember being alone and it was a long day.
KTLA Channel 5 was our local L.A. news station that brought us the news of the damage. For the next few days, I remember there being a dam that was failing and it dominated ongoing news. Looking at the news story I see that it was the Van Norman Dam. Yes, I remember that name being repeated over and over hundreds of times in the days following the Sylmar quake. They had the KTLA news helicopter that flew over the dam and the reports warned those downstream of its imminent failure. We were nowhere near the projected flood zone, but the news still instilled the fear in my soul.
YOUTUBE VIDEO -
In the next day or two, Dad loaded Becky, Mom, and I into our car and we headed to the epicenter to see the damage. I viewed firsthand the hospital that had collapsed and crushed cars in the parking lot.... Wait, it's another Utah aftershock!... Navigating required avoiding some of the freeways that had suffered collapses. I also remember driving through hillside areas of Burbank and Sylmar and seeing hundreds of homes that were under construction with the stick framing twisted and crushed with the roofs laying flat on the ground. Hundreds of these homes in progress were flattened. It is funny that Shelly teases me about always wanting to go to the center of the action when calamity occurs. Yes, I am curious. For example, we were in Dodger Stadium when the Rodney King riots broke out and I wanted to drive to south Central and see the cause of the major fires visible in the night sky from that area.
I want to report that Shelly, Mom, and I are safe here in Northern Utah. Dallas and Haily just checked in. Haily slept through it and Dallas was startled a bit in the bathroom... Wait, the earthquake caused him to go to the bathroom... I think I need to text him and clarify. :-) I need to check into the status of Adam and Emalyn and then head outside into the rain and see how the neighbor's fared. So just to report, here in Orem, Utah we have no nearby major damage. I heard that the Angel Moroni topping one of our nearby temples lost his trumpet and some old building bricks toppling in some of the historic buildings in nearby cities, but we are currently safe. I am comforted knowing that this too shall pass. Oh yeah, we are all currently self-quarantined due to the Corona Virus and it just greatly complicates the emotions we are experiencing. Michael Leavitt - Orem, Utah