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Earthquake: The Long Road Back : Hard-Hit Santa Claritans Scramble for Essentials : Losses: Food, water and repair goods are in short supply. City suffers an estimated $80 million in damage.

January 20, 1994|JOHN CHANDLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Although stores and other businesses slowly began to reopen, residents of Santa Clarita still had trouble Wednesday finding essentials such as food, water and repair goods, including water heaters needed for their homes.

City officials estimated that the rebuilding will take months, if not years, to complete. Damage in the city was estimated at $80 million.

"Every fire guy and sheriff's guy is saying it. 'This was the hardest-hit area' in the Los Angeles County territories patrolled by the two agencies," Santa Clarita spokeswoman Gail Foy said.

Santa Clarita City Hall, which suffered extensive interior damage, has been evacuated twice--after Monday's quake and Wednesday after strong aftershocks. The city government has been operating an emergency command center from under a large tent in the adjoining parking lot. The future of the building is uncertain.

City workers staffing telephone hot lines said the number of calls from residents was up Wednesday. "The shock is wearing off. People are beginning to expect more from us," Foy said.

Emergency workers in the Santa Clarita Valley area, home to 160,000 people, still had no estimate on the number of injuries, although they did confirm that one man in his 60s died of a heart attack on the day of the quake. The area's major hospital, Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial, was open only to treat minor injuries, with major cases being sent to Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, a city official said.

Meanwhile, federal officials announced that they plan to open a disaster assistance center at 1 p.m. today at Canyon Country Park, 17651 Soledad Canyon Road.

The earthquake shattered glass and cracked and crumbled building facades throughout the city, particularly in older areas of Newhall. Many makeshift wooden carports collapsed onto cars, although city officials said they knew of no residential or commercial buildings that had completely failed.

The city's large mobile home park communities were hard hit, with countless homes jerked off their foundations. At least eight mobile homes at the Greenbrier Estates Park were gutted by flames when the quake ruptured a natural gas connection.

Substantial areas of the city, particularly around Valencia, remained without water. Although residents elsewhere around the Santa Clarita Valley continued to have water service, they were warned to boil tap supplies.

All but about 1,500 customers in the city had electricity restored as of Wednesday.

Officials said it could be three to five days before all natural gas service is restored, mainly because Southern California Gas Co. workers will have to go house to house turning on gas meters that residents had shut off after the quake to avoid fires.

The commute for Santa Clarita Valley residents, and their neighbors to the north in the Antelope Valley, continued to be a major headache as they pondered how to cope with the crippled interchange of the Golden State and Antelope Valley freeways.

"That's one of the things in the long term we're most worried about. It could have an enormous economic impact on the area," Foy said.

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Even before two strong afternoon aftershocks shook the region Wednesday, many fearful residents had been sleeping outside in cars or tents, even though their houses were structurally sound.

"What if we fell asleep inside? We might die," said 16-year-old Florentino Garcia of Newhall, who spent the night in a car with his 14-year-old cousin.

Because of the water problems, city officials worked with Los Angeles County to bring in five large truckloads Wednesday, distributing an estimated 30,000 1.5-liter bottles to residents at five locations. Inmates from the county jail in Castaic were dispatched to dole out the water.

The National Guard sent two 5,000-gallon trucks to the valley. Most of the bottled water was snapped up within hours, and city officials were trying to arrange another five truckloads for today.

"It's unbelievable," said Assistant City Manager Ken Pulskamp. "We got five semi-trucks. We're going through a semi-truck an hour. It's like we're pouring it into the ground."

Through it all, residents appeared to remain in relatively good cheer, and many told of neighbors sharing needed items or otherwise helping each other.

Suzanna Tabjdi of Valencia said a neighbor, one of the few willing to stay in her kitchen for any length of time, cooked chicken fajitas for others Tuesday night and Tabjdi told of sharing a lamp with her neighbor, Lisa Gomez.

"We spent the night in the van. We don't want to go into the house," said Gomez, who was talking of leaving California.

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