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Southland Struggles to Dig Out : Quake Toll Rises to 40; Services Still Down : Disaster: Aftershocks from 6.6 temblor continue. Many turn neighborhoods and parks into campgrounds while others seek refuge in shelters and hotels.

January 19, 1994|HENRY WEINSTEIN and TIMOTHY WILLIAMS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

As waves of aftershocks continued to jolt quake-ravaged Southern California, life was anything but back to normal Tuesday for vast swaths of the region, which was struggling to dig out from the rubble, maneuver over a crumpled freeway system and assess the devastation without full benefit of power, gas or phones.

A day after a magnitude 6.6 earthquake rumbled violently under the San Fernando Valley, tens of thousands of frazzled and displaced residents turned their neighborhoods into sprawling campgrounds, burning tree limbs for warmth, boiling water against contaminants, stocking up on batteries and wondering when--or if--they will be able to return home.

"At least if I die here, they'll find me quick and not have to search for me in the rubble," said Silvia Martinez, 25, who was camped out at Echo Park Lake, where she had set up a frayed mattress under a makeshift tent of black garbage bags strung between two shopping carts.

The day's major developments:

* The death toll climbed to 40. Among the latest fatalities was the 16th body to be pulled from the three-story Northridge Meadows apartments, which became the focus of a grim rescue mission after it collapsed into two floors. Four other deaths in the latest tally were attributed to heart attacks. One other died in a traffic accident on Monday.

* Medical officials said that 530 people had suffered injuries serious enough to be hospitalized, while another 2,333 injured were treated and released. Hospitals remained swamped across the Valley, doctors performed triage in parking lots and kidney patients scrambled to find dialysis treatment.

* Unable or unwilling to venture back to their homes, as many as 20,000 people had set up camp in at least 70 city parks. Thousands more were holed up at emergency shelters or were checked into hotels.

* As top federal officials met to discuss how best to bring emergency aid to the region, President Clinton announced he would visit Los Angeles today. Insurance industry officials estimated that insured damage from the quake and aftershocks will exceed $1 billion.

* With scores of employees staying away from work, traffic on the region's fractured roadways was remarkably light. Already, demolition crews were busy tearing down crumbled and debris-strewn stretches of the Santa Monica and Golden State freeways.

* Nearly 82,000 customers were still without power, at least 50,000 had no water and 28,000 were without natural gas. Although telephone service was largely restored, officials said lines remained congested and urged residents to limit their calls.

* Mayor Richard Riordan extended the curfew through Tuesday night, saying the continuing need for one would be evaluated each day. He did, however, change its start from dusk to 11 p.m. Los Angeles police, meanwhile, reported minimal looting and curfew violations. If fact, Monday night was so quiet that only 73 people were arrested in the entire city, a fraction of the average tally.

* While some comfort could be taken in Tuesday's blue skies and warm winter sun, forecasters predicted rain by the weekend, hastening efforts to board up and repair damaged structures.

"I don't think it's hit everyone here yet," said Connie Buchanan, 65, whose one-bedroom apartment in Sherman Oaks was squashed to about half its original height. All along her block on Murieta Avenue, an almost festival atmosphere prevailed as residents evacuated buildings, filling the sidewalks with furniture, clothes and paintings.

"We're all sort of going around not knowing what to feel," she said.

Do You Cry?

On the Day After, disaster maintained its persistent grip. While many survivors were able to reflect on the good fortune that Monday's earthquake had struck so early in the morning, the full extent of its deadly punch grew increasingly clear.

At the Northridge Meadows apartments, where nearly half of the quake's dead had been unearthed from the submerged first floor, search dogs discovered a 16th body surrounded by pots and pans, wedged under heavy pillars in a three-foot void.

Officials did not immediately identify the victim, but it was believed to be Pil Sook Lee, a 47-year-old mechanic who had been preparing to go to work when the quake struck. Lee's wife, Hyun, a nurse, managed to crawl from the rubble with a 12-year-old son. But within hours of the quake, she learned that her 14-year-old son had been killed and her husband was presumed dead.

After 24 hours of desperate searching that riveted TV viewers nationwide, Los Angeles Fire Department Battalion Chief Bill Burmester said he was confident that no one--alive or dead--was left in the 160-unit structure that has become an emblem of the quake's deadly muscle. During the final sweep, rescue teams used high-tech listening devices and a tiny fiber-optic camera that was lowered into narrow crevices.

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