WHITTIER — It was an hour or so after the Oct. 1 earthquake rocked Whittier that its emergency operations center received a call from Santa Fe Springs.
Things weren't so bad there, a Santa Fe Springs city official said, so could Whittier use 50 Fire Department cadets to help assess their damage? And maybe a building inspector or two? And what about, in a couple of days, some help cleaning up the rubble?
"The key to emergency response is knowing what you have to deal with," said Whittier Emergency Services Coordinator J. Sonny Morkus. "They certainly helped us get a quick handle on the damages out there."
And once the damage figures were in--upwards of $60 million in Whittier alone--Santa Fe Springs wanted to provide a little more neighborly assistance. So the City Council last week voted to contribute $100,000 to the Whittier Earthquake Disaster Relief Fund, the largest contribution received so far.
"It's just a drop in the bucket," said Santa Fe Springs City Manager Don Powell, "but we value our relationships with our neighbors and we think that Whittier would have come to our aid had things been the reverse."
Whittier Mayor Pro Tem Sabina Schwab said she was astounded at the size of the donation.
"That was an exceptionally generous gesture," Schwab said. "When a person cares, it's one thing to say so, but to show that you do is the ultimate."
Powell and Santa Fe Springs Mayor Lorenzo Sandoval delivered the check last week to Whittier Mayor Gene Chandler and other city officials.
"They were very thrilled about it," Sandoval said, "and we felt proud that we were able to do it."
Historically, there has been a close association between the two cities because many people who live in Whittier work in Santa Fe Springs, and vice versa, Powell said. About 20% of Santa Fe Springs' Chamber of Commerce board members own businesses in Whittier, he added.
Cooperation Not New
Sandoval added that the two cities also have cooperated in the past on street improvement and landscaping projects.
Morkus said Santa Fe Springs has kept a crew of five in Whittier for weeks, with two dump trucks and a backhoe assisting with cleanup.
But Santa Fe Springs wasn't the only city lending a helping hand. Help in the form of workers and equipment also poured into Whittier from other parts of California, including Anaheim, Burbank, Corona, Irvine, La Habra, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, Merino Valley, Newport Beach, Palm Desert, Rancho Cucamonga, Redlands, Signal Hill, South Gate, Torrance, Ventura and West Covina.
And assistance came from overseas the week after the earthquake. The first contribution to the relief fund was from Freiburg, Germany, in appreciation for donations of food, clothing, dairy products and other supplies from Whittier citizens to assist in rebuilding after World War II. Freiburg's $50,000 contribution was the second-largest after that of Santa Fe Springs.
Chandler said that General Telephone also had pledged a $15,000 contribution that should be received this week, bringing the fund to $165,000.
The Whittier City Council this week will consider establishing a citizen's advisory foundation to set guidelines for the yet-to-be-spent money from the relief fund, which will go to help area residents and merchants, Chandler said.
Santa Fe Springs reported about $750,000 of its own earthquake damage, and its City Council has set aside $300,000 to provide grants of up to $5,000 to residents who need to rebuild. Applications for the grants will be available through Dec. 31 at the city Planning and Development Department.
Powell said Santa Fe Springs funded the grant program and the donation from its reserve fund, which is kept in sound shape by taxes paid by businesses. The heavily industrial city's population swells from 15,000 at night to 80,000 during the day.