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Readers share their memories of 1971 Sylmar earthquake

February 10, 2011 |  9:28 am


Talk back LASince we asked our readers to share their memories of the magnitude 6.6 Sylmar earthquake that struck 40 years ago, the comments have been coming in fast and furious all day on L.A. Now, Facebook and Twitter.

Many readers were children rousted from slumber by the first earthquake they had ever experienced. For them, the earthquake meant panicked adults and chaos; Terie Lepker, 7 years old at the time, remembers her parents fighting over which doorway to stand in. The earthquake was a rude childhood awakening for @VeganInLA, who deadpans, "It's also the day I learned my uncle slept naked." But the overall experience, Karoline says, "was a great adventure":

It was very frightening but let's face it, missing a week of school is something all kids enjoy and make the most of. Everyone in the neighborhood camped out in cars or on lawns the first night. Most went back indoors the second night when we saw none of the aftershocks were going to bring the houses down. We were without running water for several days. Some families on the block had pools so everyone used pool water to start cleaning and flush toilets. The gas and electricity were out for at least a week. And no telephone service for days.

What was an opportunity for camping without bathing for some was a horrifying experience for many Sylmar's residents. Barry Smolin was struck with insomnia, and Carol B-D had nightmares for years. Steve wrote, "The aftershocks were so numerous you couldn't get settled down to sleep... It was the first time in my life where I experienced 'primal fear.'" The disaster taught Howard M. and Jeffrey Brooke to maintain emergency supplies and urge others to do the same.

Some of our commenters, like Geo, recall how the disaster brought the community together. Astonished notes, somewhat cynically, "Everyone was so shell shocked over the quake that no one took the opportunity to loot from the stores." Former city employee echoes Geo when she writes about her experiences as an employee of Sylmar Councilman Louis Newell:

I learned so much about dealing with other governmental agencies and later used that knowledge when I volunteered in the Mayor's office during the 1992 riots after the King verdict. Each time I was moved and proud of the residents who were brave and were almost hesitant to ask for assistance.

Although we can't post everyone's memories, we encourage you read the rest on L.A. Now, Facebook and Twitter.

Photo: A line of Los Angeles County ambulances and other vehicles are caught under the collapsed roof of parking structure at Olive View Hospital. Credit: Boris Yaro / Los Angeles Times. See more photos of the Sylmar earthquake at Framework, The Times' photo blog.