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Northridge Earthquake 20 Years Later: Early Reports From Associated Press

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A woman and a Los Angeles policeman argue at the Winnetka Recreation Center in Northridge, California, on January 20, 1994 as hundreds of people wait in line for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency .        (CHRIS WILKINS/AFP/Getty Images)

A woman and a Los Angeles policeman argue at the Winnetka Recreation Center in Northridge, California, on January 20, 1994 as hundreds of people wait in line for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency . (CHRIS WILKINS/AFP/Getty Images)

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EDITOR’S NOTE – On Jan. 17, 1994, Associated Press reporter Catherine O’Brien was in Los Angeles when the Northridge earthquake struck at 4:31 a.m. local time. Freeways fell, buildings collapsed, fires ignited. After the shaking stopped, dozens were dead, and more than 9,000 were hurt. Twenty years after its original publication, the AP is making this early report available to its subscribers.

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A violent earthquake struck Southern California before dawn today, turning freeways into rubble, collapsing buildings with a savage power and igniting fires that sent swirls of smoke across the hazy, battered city. At least 24 people died.

Northridge Earthquake 20 Years Later In Photos

The quake, centered in the San Fernando Valley, buckled overpasses on three freeways, trapping motorists in tons of concrete rubble. It severed Interstate 5, California’s main north-south highway, and Interstate 10, the nation’s busiest freeway.

“This place was moving like a jackhammer was going at it,” said Richard Goodis of Sherman Oaks, an affluent San Fernando Valley suburb. “Our bedroom wall tore away. I was looking at the ceiling one moment, then I was looking at the sky. I thought we were dead.”

Cars lie smashed by the collapsed Interstate 5 connector ramp on January 17, 1994 following a 6,6 earthquake that claimed at least 28 lives.      AFP PHOTO JONATHAN NOUROK        (Photo credit should read JONATHAN NOUROK/AFP/GettyImages)

Cars lie smashed by the collapsed Interstate 5 connector ramp on January 17, 1994 following a 6,6 earthquake that claimed at least 28 lives. (JONATHAN NOUROK/AFP/GettyImages)

The quake derailed a freight train carrying hazardous material and briefly closed several airports, including Los Angeles International. Power and telephone service were lost throughout Southern California.

Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and California Gov. Pete Wilson declared states of emergency, and President Clinton said he expected to issue a federal disaster declaration later in the day.

Wilson called out the National Guard. In addition, fire rescue teams responded from as far away as San Francisco.

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