Residents recall moments of togetherness during 1994 earthquake


At 4:31 a.m. on Jan. 17, 1994, Santa Clarita resident Monique Newman jumped out of bed amidst the shaking, to run to the rooms of her 8- and 10-year-old sons.

“It felt like someone picked up our house and slammed it to the ground,” Newman said.

A 6.7 magnitude earthquake rattled for miles, from the epicenter in Northridge.

“My first inclination was to run to their room,” Newman said.

She fell down as her husband, Gene, came to keep her safe.

He had been through the terror of “The Big One” before in the 1971 San Fernando Earthquake.

“He said he felt like it was World War III,” Newman said.

Furniture falling and TV’s crashing to the ground, the Newman family rushed outside.

“There was this eerie green glow,” she said. “It was the ionic lightning released from the earth during the earthquake.”

The family of four jumped in their van, moving it out of the driveway to the street for safety reasons.

“When the light came to an end, everything went black,” Newman said. “No streetlights, no electricity, just the stars lit the way.”

As the sun came up, the family continued to hear emergency vehicles speed down the freeway as they lived near the Interstate 5 and Highway 14 split.

“We were listening to the radio to get the news,” Newman said. “It was a lot of waiting and wondering and checking on neighbors.”

Some 5,752 private structures damaged and almost all were without power and water.

“The city was fabulous about getting bottled water to families,” Newman said. “We’ve been stocked up on water ever since then, just to be prepared.”

“All of our power was out,” said Laura Shanders, former Castaic resident and general manager of the Do It Center. “It smelled like gas around our house.”

Aftershocks continued for a number of days, causing many to stay in hotels or campers.

“We spent the first night (following the earthquake) in sleeping bags in the living room to get out quickly,” Newman said.

They then moved to their tent trailer outside for about 10 nights, she said. “We weren’t afraid of anything collapsing around us.”

Collapsed walls, fences and cracked chimneys were seen around the valley.

“There was great neighborliness,” Newman said. “We shared costs with neighbors to repair neighboring walls.”

As houses were damaged, so were local businesses.

“I would have never imagine what I saw when I rolled up in that parking lot,” Shanders said.

Do It Center

Shanders pulled into the Do It Center parking lot, formerly located on Valencia Boulevard, only to see damage she would never imagine.

All the sprinkler alarms were going off, multiple windows were broken and it was pitch black, she said. “All of the paint and garden chemicals that fell were mixed together.”

The damage from the earthquake made the store uninhabitable, but that didn’t stop Shanders and her team from helping the community.

“We had so many people coming to the store,” she said. “We were the only home improvement store open.”

Shanders took a table and cash register out to the parking lot and began selling people the items they needed to repair their homes and survive for the days following the earthquake.

“Customers were asking if I could get them flashlights and batteries,” Shanders said. “That morning was absolutely horrible. People were so freaked out.”

About four employees showed up to work that day, joining Shanders in helping the community with repairs.

“We were very grateful to the people,” Shanders said.

Many did not have money with them, she said. “Every single person came back to pay, besides one person.”

From plywood and water heater straps to flashlights and batteries, everyone needed emergency supplies.

“It was one of the best ways to help the community,” Shanders said. “We stayed open. We didn’t miss one day being open.”

Engineers and sheriff’s deputies continued to check the store, making sure the employees were safe.

“The earthquake was horrible, but the community stuck together and supported each other,” Shanders said.

As aftershocks continued, the community banded together, Newman said. “There were times you could almost hear it rumbling towards us.”

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