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.
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.
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.”
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.