Keun Bae Pak thought his end had come when the ground pitched beneath his feet while he poured water into the coffee maker at his downtown hamburger stand. But then the realization that it was merely the strongest earthquake he'd felt in 17 years in Los Angeles was followed by an afterthought: This could be good for business.
Indeed it was. Hundreds of employees were evacuated from the nearby State Office Building, the Times Mirror building, City Hall and storefronts along Broadway and Spring Street. Forced to mill in the streets for hours Thursday morning, they lined up five deep behind the five stools at Pak's Husky Boy stand on 2nd Street.
They talked of glass vases falling off tables and shattering, of computer terminals toppling over, of long cracks appearing in walls. And they shouted for Pak, his wife and his helper to serve them coffee or soda.
"The earthquake helped me," Pak said, showing off the bulging pockets of his green apron that signified bunches of dollar bills he hadn't had time to count. "I sold 10 times as many drinks as usual. And when they calmed down, they ate."
Sirens, Burglar Alarms
Damage appeared minor. But sirens blared as fire engines, some from as far away as Mission Hills, responded to alarms set off by broken water pipes. Burglar alarms also squalled at several stores. Queues formed at pay telephones as those forced outside called home or, in the case of lawyers with hearings, to the court.
At City Hall, the quake sent employees of the Planning Department scurrying for cover in a meeting room where they were being introduced to the department's new deputy director, Robert Jenkins. Some employees began weeping, others ran for exits and several tried to squeeze beneath a small table, employees said.
"Everybody forgot what to do and started to run," said Chrystal Wright, a word processor from Inglewood whose jacket was soaked with coffee dumped by a woman in the room.
Dave Scott and Merdad Emami, plan check engineers for the Department of Building and Safety, said employees and customers in that department did not panic.
"One man waiting for me to help him sat back in his chair and smiled," Scott said. "I said to him, 'You look awfully calm,' and he replied, 'There is nothing I can do but sit and wait.' "
Expected 'Free Cheese'
Some waiting outside the State Office Building had traveled long distances for special appointments and arrived downtown without any knowledge that there had been a quake.
Bill Rodarme, a GTE analyst, had come from his company's headquarters in Thousand Oaks for a hearing before the Public Utilities Commission. "We saw all the people out here and said, 'God, they must be giving away free cheese.' We saw some shattered glass and thought they must be wrecking a building somewhere."
Alonzo Giron had left San Bernardino at 5:30 a.m. and traveled by bus to take an exam for a state accounting clerk job. He showed up on time at 8:30 a.m. but wasn't allowed in the building. "They told me to stay until noon," he said. "I guess I will. I came all the way here and I need that job."
Doors Jammed Closed
At Angelus Plaza, an apartment complex for the elderly, residents on the 17th floor of one building couldn't get out until maintenance crews ripped the locks off jammed doors.
Henry M. Gallego, 67, was shaving in his third-floor apartment when the quake hit. A cut on his chin was still bleeding 20 minutes later.
The big band music on the radio stopped. Three lamp shades hit the floor.
He sat down and strapped on his artificial leg, just in case, but hoped to stay inside. "That last shock scared me outside," he said, leaning on his crutches.
Trini Aranda, 71, who lives on the 16th floor, ran downstairs as soon as she realized she couldn't fit under her bed. "But," she said, smiling, "I had time to take the rollers out of my hair. And I had time to pray."