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Aftershock : Real Damage Was to Nerves in Jittery Whittier

February 12, 1988|MARY LOU FULTON | Times Staff Writer

This time around there were a few more broken windows and a few more fallen bricks. But the real damage was to the already jittery nerves of earthquake-weary Whittier residents, who spent Thursday wondering if peace of mind would ever return.

"People aren't so much scared as they are frustrated," said Joseph Lieggi of Joe's Barber Shop in Whittier. "They want to know, 'How long is this going to go on? How much more can we take?' "

Several residents noted some eerie similarities between Thursday's 5.0 earthquake and the 5.9 temblor that hit Oct. 1. Both happened on a clear Thursday, both happened around 7:30 a.m. and both were accompanied by hot gusts of Santa Ana winds.

And both provoked similar reactions.

"You should have seen how fast everybody ran out of these buildings," said Manuel Luna, a construction worker doing repairs in the earthquake-torn Uptown business district when the latest temblor struck. ". . . I don't scare easily, but I was pretty scared."

But the fright did not seem to last as long. Residents did not take refuge on their lawns or deluge the Police Department with telephone calls, although the earthquake was the main topic on most people's minds Thursday morning.

"I think they're just getting used to the rocking and rolling around here," said Officer Mike Willis of the Whittier Police Department. "Unless it's above a 5 (on the Richter scale), they just kind of let it go."

Residents described the earthquake as a steady rumbling leading up to a sharp jolt comparable to the 5.3 aftershock of Oct. 4. Merchants reported a few items falling from shelves and curiosity seekers began cruising the Uptown area shortly after the earthquake, said Marilyn Neece, executive director of the Uptown Assn.

Asked if there had been any further aftershocks Thursday, Neece said, "I wouldn't know. My knees have kept up a steady 3.2" on the Richter scale.

Construction crews, in town since the October earthquakes caused $70 million in damage to homes and businesses, resumed painting and chipping away crumbling buildings within half an hour of Thursday's temblor.

Ian MacLeod and Mike Herrick were repairing earthquake damage on the roof of the six-story Hoover Hotel in the Uptown area when the building started shaking. "It was moving pretty good up there," MacLeod said.

"We were running down the stairs and plaster was falling down behind us," Herrick said.

But the two were soon back at work. "What the heck--I got to make money. Got to pay the bills," MacLeod said.

At Mason's Community Bakery, customers swapped stories about Whittier's earthquakes and wished that this shaker would be the last.

One woman, who identified herself only as Mrs. McGregor, said her three cats and two dogs bolted when Thursday's earthquake hit. "I'm still trembling," she said. "I haven't seen the cats since. They haven't had breakfast and they're not about to come and get it."

Maria Aguilera was eating breakfast with her two children when the room started shaking.

"Here we go again," Aguilera said. "I told them, 'Don't panic. Just let it ride. We can't do nothing about it.' "

At the Hoover Hotel, 93-year-old Ethel Hillery sat on a bench in front of the building and vowed not to return to her third-floor room "until they declare it safe."

Seated next to Hillery was Myrtle Green, 72, who left her room at the Hoover for a nearby apartment after the October earthquakes. "My husband has passed away since we lived here (at the Hoover)," Green said. "He said he could never stand another one."

A few blocks away at the Uptown Preschool, director Susan Steele said earthquake drills paid off. Instructors have trained the children to "make bunny ears (using their hands) and dive under the tables," Steele said. "It was a strange sight, but it worked."

Thursday morning, about 25 of the preschool's 60 students were absent. But of those who did show up, many were upset, Steele said. "They don't like it. They want to know, 'Why does it happen?' and 'Will it happen again?' " she said.

"(The earthquake) is something that's mentioned every day by at least one of them since it first happened," Steele said.

Albert H. Arenowitz, director of the Intercommunity Child Guidance Center in Whittier, said he had received three calls for earthquake counseling by 10 a.m. Thursday.

"Little evidence of damage in this earthquake is a very positive factor," said Arenowitz, whose clinic has counseled several hundred adults and children since the October earthquakes. "It should be of some comfort to people . . . but the earthquake is bound to raise their anxiety level."

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