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Hearts of L.A. / How the Quake Rocked Our Spirits and Changed Our Lives : TAKING CHARGE : 'They just refused to leave'

January 30, 1994|Jackie Tatum | Tatum is general manager of the Los Angeles City Department of Recreation and Parks. and

When the earthquake struck, I hit the floor running, hollering to my 79-year-old mother and my two grown children, who happened to be home on a visit.

We were all upstairs because we have a two-story home in the Crenshaw-Wilshire area, and I think all of us were standing in doorways. Luckily, we had enough doorways for everybody to have one.

The next thing that came to mind I can't really understand: I thought about Olvera Street.

It's one of my responsibilities as the general manager of the Department of Recreation and Parks, and it's one of the oldest establishments in the city.

I said, 'Oh, my goodness, Olvera Street!'

My mother said, "What?"

I said, "Olvera Street. I wonder if it's still standing after all of this? Thank goodness it's this time in the morning."

So, after we got ourselves together with the portable radio and the flashlights and all those kinds of things, I got in my car and called downtown. They told us we had to report down to the emergency operations office.

I started cruising that way, but before I went to the emergency operations headquarters I drove around Olvera Street. It was still standing, and I said that it goes to show you that those before us really knew what they were doing when they built things.

After a meeting in the emergency operations center, I went out to visit the parks. I went to about 15 that first day. When I hit that Valley, I just couldn't believe the damage that had happened. The big problem, of course, was people in the parks: What to do for them?

We have approximately 100 facilities in the Valley. We figured that we should make a survey and find out where most of the people were gathering and, starting Tuesday, we put staff there around the clock.

People kept coming. This was kind of unexpected. The staff started talking to them, but they just refused to leave. They didn't want to go back to their buildings, and we could understand that.

As the days went on, we started understanding that there were many needs that would have to be satisfied. So we had a team of people down here at City Hall working from 6 in the morning to 6 in the evening, calling corporations, trying to find out if we could get Pampers, batteries, flashlights, blankets, cots.

We've known for a long time that since our department's budget has been cut, a citywide disaster would require us to go out to the corporate world to assist us. So we had a team already there that was already skilled at doing these kinds of things.

On Friday, the 21st, we met with the mayor and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros, and we were talking about tents going up, maybe Saturday. But we decided that maybe the weather would be a problem sooner than was forecast.

So, from that meeting, which was at the Encino Community Center, I decided that I would go out to Lanark Park in Canoga Park, where we had our largest gathering of people. When I arrived, to my amazement, the director was standing there with three of our park rangers and about 20 National Guard people.

As I walked up, the director said, "Here's our general manager. She can OK it."

He introduced me to Maj. Gen. Tandy Bozeman, commander of the California National Guard, who said: "I'm so glad you're here. We need to start up with the tents right now."

I said, "Proceed."

Then, I called (Police) Chief Willie Williams and I said, "Chief, I want to inform you that we're starting with the first tent installation. The National Guard is here."

He said, "All right, Jackie, you will have the support of LAPD."

And no sooner than I could walk 50 yards out into the field, there were two cars of L.A.'s finest there to assist us.

I think we all have to give thanks that in a city as large as Los Angeles--with as diverse a population as we have--that this was one time it didn't make any difference if we had to use a different language or sign language. We communicated that we were there for one another.

I think that's the bottom line: The City of Angels became a city of many angels doing some positive things for one another.

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