What Disaster Could Look Like in Southern California

By Jorge Rivas May 20, 2009

A 4.1 earthquake struck Los Angeles County yesterday afternoon about two miles north of the epicenter from another 4.7 temblor on Sunday. Los Angeles has experienced two earthquakes in the last week that are relatively strong compared to the hundreds of small aftershocks that occur daily. For magnitude reference, the last "big one" was 1994’s Northridge earthquake with a magnitude of 6.7. I remember my first earthquake like it was yesterday. Growing up, grama would spend 6 months in Los Angeles and the rest of the year in El Salvador. She’d come to Los Angeles to help my mom with me while she went to the west side for work. I was four years old and home alone with grama during the 1987 Whittier Narrows 5.9 earthquake that caused $400 million dollars of damage. I remember it vividly because grama was scared. We weren’t hurt and our apartment was virtually untouched, but grama didn’t speak English and I remember her telling me how much she wanted to talk with neighbors. Telephones were down and we had no way of communicating with anyone that spoke Spanish until we walked three long city blocks to my auntie’s house. Even at such a young age, with such a limited Spanish vocabulary, I too understood that if disaster struck we wouldn’t have been able to communicate. I’m not particularly afraid of earthquakes or natural disasters — except hurricanes, because you can totally see them coming at you — but whenever I hear news updates that say the big 8.0 rattler is coming soon I think about grama and communities and the added dangers we face. In July 2006, ColorLines Magazine published "Disastrous Inequality," a special investigation that looked at what disaster could look like in Southern California. The video above includes interviews with LA County residents interviewed in the article.