Remembering Northridge: Living atop the epicenter of the ’94 quake

Written by
The Northridge Earthquake’s Epicenter Man Joe Sauer. The epicenter of the 1994 temblor was at the edge of Joe’s backyard.

Next week marks the 20th anniversary of the Northridge Earthquake, a 6.7 temblor that was one of the most powerful to strike an American urban area. The quake toppled buildings, snapped freeways, and sparked hundreds of fires, causing more than $20 billion in damage. It also injured thousands of people and killed 57.

Although most of the physical damage caused by the Northridge quake has been erased by clean-up and rebuilding, the disaster is still very vivid in the memories of people who lived through it.

One man who has an especially strong relationship with the earthquake is San Fernando valley resident Joe Sauer. After carefully tracing back the quake’s point of origin, scientists say the edge of Joe’s backyard was the epicenter of the Northridge Earthquake.

We talked to Joe about the ’94 earthquake and how he feels now about living on shaky ground.

KCRW: What are your memories of that night, that morning?

JOE SAUER:  No more than anybody else. I was just damn scared (chuckle) because it sounded like, how should I say? I’m thinking of a train, the vibration of a train, coming through and just shaking. And then everything came down in the kitchen, the hallways, what have you. Everything just came down. The house was fine but what you are standing on including the front drive way had cracks.

KCRW: So this is all new from that earthquake?

JS:  Yes, the decking,  all around it, was destroyed.

KCRW;  And the immediate aftermath? What was that like?

JS:  Well, it was just a lot of “Oh My God, this is a mess!” It was a mess. And I was worried that my house was going to be damaged, but no structural damage.

KCRW: That’s so strange to me.

JS:  It is.

KCRW:  In the years since are you really earthquake aware now? Or time passes, and you don’t think to  much about it.

JS:  Oh, I get goose bumps whenever I feel an earthquake. There is no getting used to  an earthquake.

KCRW: Well, let’s hope it doesn’t happen anytime soon.

JS:  You bet! Anytime soon is not a good idea, not a good idea at all.