At 4:31 a.m. Jan. 17, 1994, Los Angeles-area residents were jolted roughly awake by a massive earthquake. The shaking lasted as long as 30 seconds.
“The house felt like it was picked up, twisted violently from side to side about four times and then dropped. The noise was horrific, and it was pitch-black as all my windows were shuttered,” one mother told the Los Angeles Times. She went through the house to find her young children.
“We huddled through the aftershocks until it got light,” she said.
At first it wasn’t even clear where the epicenter was, and there were some 2 1/2 hours to go until sunrise. There was destruction – collapsed freeways, crumpled buildings, burst water mains, and hundreds of fires burning in the dark – across a wide region.
Later it became clear the quake was centered in the northern part of Reseda, near Northridge, in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley. The magnitude was later put at 6.7.
It was the first large quake with an epicenter directly beneath an urban area of the U.S. since the 1933 Long Beach quake.
The Northridge quake was Gayle Anderson’s first temblor, she said. Now a fixture at KTLA, Anderson had just come to the station just a few months before and was staying at the Holiday Inn in Burbank – on the 15th floor. She was awake and getting ready to go into the station for work when the hotel “violently shook.”
“I heard this roar; I thought it was thunder,” she said that morning, speaking to KTLA’s Eric Spillman on air. “The building began to violently shake, which threw me to my knees … the building made this horrible groaning noise.”
She couldn’t stand up for five minutes.
Anderson joined the first KTLA journalists reporting on the earthquake as the extent of the destruction slowly became clear that morning. When the station went on air in the initial chaos, Spillman and legend Stan Chambers were in front of KTLA anchor desk.
“There are going to be an awful lot of surprises today,” Chambers said. “It’s important to just keep calm and get a good grip on yourself.”
Some 60 people were killed, and another 9,000 injured, and many more were left homeless.
Tens of thousands of buildings were destroyed or harmed, and freeways and bridges buckled and collapsed, amounting to more than $25 billion in damages. It was the costliest disaster in U.S. history at that time.
There were some 400 aftershocks felt by year’s end.