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Region Gets Break as Rain Fails to Arrive, but Luck May Not Hold : Aftermath: Forecasters call for 70% chance of a storm by this afternoon. To deal with the crush of relief applicants, FEMA plans to open two new disaster aid centers today, raising the total to 15.

January 24, 1994|JOHN SCHWADA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As aftershocks continued to ripple across the region Sunday, the Southland tried to get back to its feet, helped by a rainstorm that did not materialize but daunted by word that nearly 11,000 dwellings have been declared at least temporarily uninhabitable.

The number of housing units crippled by last Monday's 6.6 earthquake--10,961--is "the equivalent of a small town," said Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry G. Cisneros at a news briefing. And building and safety officials have still not completed their survey, the secretary noted.

On Sunday, the first voucher recipients--an unemployed Hollywood janitor and his family--moved into a rented home, and federal disaster officials announced that they had mailed 1,100 checks under that Federal Emergency Management Agency's program to provide temporary rental assistance for up to three months. The agency has taken 24,717 applications for the grants, FEMA Director James Lee Witt said.

To deal with the crush of applicants, FEMA plans to open two new disaster aid centers today--bringing the number to 15. Five-hour waits were commonplace at some centers Sunday.

As it struggled to regain its composure after an earthquake that left 55 dead and billions of dollars in damage, the Southland got a little help from the weather. A predicted rainstorm did not materialize, except for scattered sprinkles.

But further complicating efforts to get back to normal are Weatherdata Inc.'s predictions of a 70% chance of rain by this afternoon. "It looks like you'll get wet this time," said forecaster Bruce Thoren. A quarter-inch of rain at most is expected, he said.

A cluster of morning and evening aftershocks rumbled like thunderclouds Sunday, the strongest a 4.5-magnitude temblor Sunday evening, followed just over 90 minutes later by quakes of 4.4 and 4.3.

No new damage was reported from the temblors--three of them between midnight and 6 a.m., and four more between 6:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.

Meanwhile, weary disaster workers reported that the population of dozens of impromptu and worrisome park encampments, whose conditions had concerned health and public safety officials, continued to dwindle Sunday. Their inhabitants drifted back to their pre-quake dwellings or moved to shelters managed by the Red Cross and Salvation Army. At the peak, more than 20,000 persons were reportedly camping in city parks.

About 3,300 people were still camping in the parks Sunday, according to Dick Andrews of the state Office of Emergency Services.

Los Angeles Department of Water and Power officials also had good news--water service was restored to all but residents of Granada Hills by Sunday, the same day that state health officials said residents of North Hollywood, Panorama City, Sun Valley, Sunland-Tujunga and Van Nuys no longer needed to boil drinking water.

Also taken off the boiled-water order Sunday were parts of Studio City and Sherman Oaks, according to Pankaj Parekh, a DWP official.

Yet hundreds of thousands of DWP customers were still being told to boil their water as a precaution against contamination: all neighborhoods in the Santa Monica Mountains north of Sunset Boulevard, including Brentwood, Bel-Air and the Hollywood Hills, and parts of the San Fernando Valley.

Despite the slow return to familiar rhythms and habits, the test of nerves was expected to continue today when the city braces for the heaviest commuting day since the quake. With some freeways severed by the earthquake, and the possibility of rain, the commute for many is expected to be grueling.

Gov. Pete Wilson predicted that the city's quake damage would outstrip the $18 billion in destruction wrought in August, 1992, by Hurricane Andrew in the Southeast, making it the nation's costliest disaster.

But Wilson resisted efforts to fix a price tag on the damage from the Northridge quake, saying that "it would be a great mistake to rush to judgment and give Congress a number that is less than the actual damage."

And in any case, Wilson added, he believes that the federal government should bear the brunt of the region's recovery costs.

With brush fires and mudslides on top of the recession and slumping aerospace industry, and now this latest calamity, Wilson said, "this area has been very hard hit, and has had more than its share."

"I am in no rush to raise state taxes and impose more costs on this state when we are already suffering," Wilson said. "The President said this is a national problem . . . just like the floods were in the Midwest."

FEMA director Witt agreed that the quake disaster was "probably the worst we've had in a long, long time."

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