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THEN AND NOW

Last Year's Quake Led to Shake-Up in Safety Procedures

February 28, 1991|EDMUND NEWTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 2.2-magnitude shaker rattled a few windowpanes in the Upland area Sunday.

Though it wasn't much, as earthquakes go, Sunday's seismic hiccup served as a fitting commemoration of last year's 5.5-magnitude earthquake, which showered boulders on mountain roads, toppled chimneys and smashed plate-glass windows in San Bernardino and eastern Los Angeles counties.

It was one year ago today that the Upland earthquake hit in the midafternoon, leaving at least 243 homes and 92 businesses damaged in Upland, Claremont, Pomona and La Verne. More than three dozen people were injured. It was felt as far away as Las Vegas.

Since then, the communities have repaired broken windows and chimneys and largely put the memory behind them, residents say.

But that earthquake may actually have left some good in its wake, officials say. The 30 seconds of havoc last Feb. 28 created ideal conditions for a kind of dry run for larger earthquakes to come.

"If you have to test your emergency plan, you want to do it in a situation where there's clearly an emergency but where lives aren't being lost," said Bridget Distelrath, Claremont's assistant city manager.

"We learned a lot from the experience," said La Verne City Manager Martin R. Lomeli.

For example, La Verne emergency workers found they had to scramble to find tools and supplies, such as yellow tape to barricade buildings, most of it stored in various places at the city yard on Third Street, Lomeli said.

The city has since acquired two cargo containers for storage of equipment such as cots, street barricades, chain saws, crowbars and flashlights, and it has begun a three-year cycle to replenish supplies.

"The idea was to have it all in one place, so when you show up at the city yard, you know exactly where to go," Lomeli said.

After last year's quake, Pomona imposed strict new operating procedures on city employees. "Some people heard the news that it was a minor earthquake, and they didn't respond," said Robert DeLoach, director of public works. "For a time, we couldn't get city personnel out to do things like checking sewers."

Claremont has fine-tuned its procedures for evacuating city buildings and mobilizing city staff. "We've given authority to building officials and city planning officials to immediately shut down their counters to get all the engineers and planners out doing inspections," Distelrath said.

For those close enough to feel the full effects, the Upland earthquake seemed a particularly jolting one, with an insidious series of aftershocks.

"I'm a native Southern Californian, and I've been through all of earthquakes since the '60s," Lomeli said. "This one seemed a lot more violent."

At the Upland City Hall, city workers immediately dived under their desks, said senior management analyst Sheryl Williams. "Ceiling tiles were coming down--that was the scariest part," she said. "Then a file cabinet hit a big archway window, and it shattered."

But the worst part, Williams said, was the aftershocks. "There were stories that the first earthquake could have been just a foreshock to something larger," she said.

Sunday's 2.2-magnitude event was just the latest in hundreds of aftershocks, a Caltech spokesman said. "There have been way over a thousand," he said.

A year later, there still are signs of the destruction that the quake left. An auto parts distribution center at D Avenue and Arrow Highway in La Verne, where the roof caved in with 60 people inside, remains in wreckage, said Fire Chief Bob Miller. There were no injuries in the building.

The original sanctuary of the First Baptist Church of Pomona, at Holt and Garey avenues, is still blocked off with an eight-foot wooden fence. The 1910 structure's bell tower sustained cracks in its stone facade. Repairing it was deemed too expensive, and the congregation is now accepting bids for demolition of the tower, said business manager Denis Endert.

But Pomona encouraged quick rebuilding of broken chimneys by suspending the $50 to $85 permit fee for repairs done within 90 days of the quake, said community development official Bill Paine.

In Upland, the 40-foot-high "Madonna of the Trails" statue, depicting a pioneer woman and her two children, still has cracks in its base. The 62-year-old statue at the corner of Foothill Boulevard and Euclid Avenue will undergo $30,000 in repairs before the end of this year, Williams said.

But for the most part, the Upland earthquake of 1990 is a fading memory. "We've pretty much put it behind us," Williams said.

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