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Los Angeles Times Special Report : On the Fault Line : Southern Californians Take Stock of the Earthquake

January 19, 1994

4:31 a.m. Monday morning. A subterranean wave rolls across the Los Angeles Basin and millions of people are simultaneously jolted from sleep. The intensely communal experience of shared disaster begins, a ritual that has become all too common for Southlanders. For most, the day starts with calming the children's jitters and checking for broken plates and glasses. The less fortunate begin to sift through the rubble of their homes, to search for lost pets. And yet for others, victims of nature's savage and irrational hand, the morning does not begin at all. Soon the toll stands at 34 dead, hundreds injured and thousands more homeless. Monumental freeway overpasses are toppled like building blocks slapped down by an angry child; apartment buildings collapse onto themselves; whole neighborhoods are without water and electricity. But the day also brings out the best in people. Firefighters risk their lives to save a man crushed beneath 20 tons of parking-structure concrete; motorists display an uncharacteristic politeness at darkened intersections; neighbors bring their camping lanterns out of storage and share their food and water at impromptu block parties. In this section, five Times writers share their impressions and thoughts about a day as troubling, and as ennobling, as Southern California itself.

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