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Sylmar Jolted by Ghosts of Horror Past : History: The city that crumpled under a 6.5 quake in 1971 remembers well the terror that came when the earth gave way. On Monday, it seemed like it was cursed.

January 18, 1994|CRAIG TURNER and RICHARD E. MEYER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

They were veterans of the 1971 quake. Dorothy Miller, puffing on cigarette on the patio, said they had no plans to move. "But you never really get used to it," her husband said from his spot on a blanket on the lawn.

Dorothy Miller, a senior supervisor at the Sierracin Corp., was at work during the 1971 temblor. "We make windshields for airplanes. There was glass flying everywhere. In fact, I thought it was an explosion."

This time, she and her husband were at home. They had set the alarm for 3 a.m., because Dorothy was headed for work early. It was just as well because when they took a look at their bedroom after the quake, two mirrors, a dresser and a tall set of shelves had toppled onto the bed.

At Olive View Medical Center, two buildings collapsed in 1971, and three people died, including two patients on life-support systems that failed when auxiliary generators did not start. The third was an ambulance driver who was crushed by a falling wall.

Olive View was an 888-bed hospital then. It had only been open a month when the quake hit. Because of extensive damage, the hospital was rebuilt, with attention to strengthening it against any future quake. But it was much smaller. Now it has a capacity of 377 patients.

There were about 300 in the hospital before dawn Monday, said Mario Sewell, an assistant administrator. Half were transferred or discharged, and the hospital does not expect to take any new patients for at least 48 hours.

Sewell said the hospital had water damage, broken tiles and loss of power. A few members of the staff suffered minor injuries, he said, but none of its patients was hurt.

Cherry Uyeda was assistant personnel officer at the hospital in 1971; now she is director of public relations. What would she say to someone who thought Sylmar was a hard-luck place?

"I don't go along with those who say it's a hard-luck city. It's a beautiful city in a beautiful setting. Olive View has always had its facility here, and I'd hate to see us move. . . . We've had problems, fires and now two earthquakes.

"But we've always come through."

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