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Echoes of 1971 Reverberate for Veterans of Sylmar Quake

October 02, 1987|STEPHANIE CHAVEZ | Times Staff Writer

'I have faith in this building. It's not going to fall again.'

Donna Robinson on duty at Olive View during '71, '87 quakes

As Olive View Medical Center in Sylmar trembled during Thursday morning's earthquake, Donna Robinson ducked beneath a doorway and thought, "I have faith in this building. It's not going to fall again."

Just as she had been 16 years ago during the devastating Sylmar earthquake, Robinson was again the chief hospital administrator on duty at Olive View during a severe earthquake. In 1971, she led the evacuation of 600 patients through twisted hallways and crumbling staircases.

Thursday when the shaking started, she listened.

"This time it was very quiet, there was hardly any noise, so I had a sense that it wasn't bad out here," Robinson said. "Last time you could hear the innards of the building pulling apart, crumbling, creaking."

For Robinson and many other northeast San Fernando Valley residents whose homes and businesses crumbled near the epicenter of the devastating 1971 Sylmar earthquake, Thursday's temblor frazzled nerves, touching off flashbacks.

Sixteen years ago, Olive View shifted on its foundation more than a foot, causing the first floor to collapse, killing three patients and a hospital worker. This time, not even a medicine bottle fell from the shelves at Olive View, which only reopened last April.

Hours after Thursday's quake, residents in San Fernando and Sylmar gathered in front yards and huddled at their workplaces, recounting the morning quake and comparing it to their experience in 1971.

Personal Evaluations

This one rolled instead of rocked. This one shook hard, but did not jolt. It was shorter but seemed harder. Everyone had a personal earthquake evaluation.

All said they were thankful that their communities were on the fringes of this earthquake's severe jolts and thus were spared from destruction they know all too well.

"I just closed my eyes and thought, 'Oh God, I hope we don't lose the house again,' " said Louise Ramirez, 51, a 25-year San Fernando resident whose home was split in half in 1971 by a crack four inches wide. "I've been so nervous all day. If you been through it once, you can't help but be scared when you feel another."

Ramirez, who lives on Warren Street in San Fernando, brought out snapshots from 1971 showing her toppled chimney and the crack that ran across the street and through her house. Soon, her neighbor Richard Rollings, 60, joined her to recount his nervousness when his home shook once again.

"This time I just lay in bed. I was too scared to get out," Rollings said. "In '71, we lost half our house. This time only a porcelain doll broke."

Olga Daney, pharmacy director at Holy Cross Hospital in Mission Hills, said she "couldn't believe it was happening again" when her pharmacy began to shake Thursday. The hospital was so severely damaged in 1971 that it was demolished and rebuilt six years later.

"I knew what we had faced in '71 and I thought, 'Is it going to continue, is it going to be the same all over again?' " said Daney, who had set up an emergency pharmacy in a lot outside the hospital in 1971. She said she braced herself beneath a doorway, waiting for the sounds of breaking bottles and glass, but nothing happened.

Some Seek Counseling

Robinson of Olive View said several northeast Valley residents sought counseling for nervousness and anxiety after the earthquake, but no one was admitted to the hospital's mental health ward.

Dr. Joseph McKenna, education coordinator at Olive View's emergency psychiatric ward, said it was not unusual for those who experienced "traumatic stress" during the 1971 Sylmar earthquake to experience the same type of symptoms again in a similar experience.

He said the best remedy for nervousness is to "talk it out" with neighbors or friends who were around in 1971. "Understand that this is not the same situation and you are actually safe this time," McKenna said. "Don't dwell on what could have happened."

Employees at the San Fernando Boys Market, which was jolted off its foundation and collapsed when walls buckled in 1971, took less than an hour to clean up broken jars in three aisles after Thursday's quake.

"I think I realized this time that the store wasn't going to go down when the front windows didn't break," said Roselyn Hensley, 47, a supervisor, who was a cashier in 1971.

Any earthquake from now on is going to "hit me hard," Ramirez said. "We still have '71 in our blood and we will never forget."

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