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Hearts of L.A. / How the Quake Rocked Our Spirits and Changed Our Lives : TAKING CHARGE : 'We saw a lot of destruction. We knew there had been death.'

January 30, 1994|Lt. Dan Hoffman | Hoffman, 42, Los Angeles Police Department, Devonshire Division Daywatch Watch Commander, resides in Thousand Oaks with his wife and three sons. He is a 20-year veteran of LAPD. and

I run the football program out at T.O. (Thousand Oaks), and we had one of the people on the board over for dinner that night with her son. The kids were playing outside about 8 o'clock in the evening, and they tell us, "Hey, there's a weird wind out here, dad. If you stand right here you can feel hot air." We shined 'em.

When the guests were leaving at 9 o'clock, all three of my sons and this other boy, Sean, said, "You've got to come out here and feel it," so we did. Me, my wife and the boy's mother went over to the area where the boys told us to stand and, by God, you could feel hot air coming.

The wind was blowing in a southern direction. It was like a gulf stream of air that was blowing down onto our front porch area. I thought it was crazy, but when they got me out there, it was happening. So, when we got back in the house that night, my two little ones insisted--which was unusual--on sleeping with their older brother after this incident. It scared them. They were down on the bottom floor, and my wife and I were on the second floor.

For whatever reason, I woke up at 4:27. I have a clock right by my head. And I was wondering how many minutes before my alarm goes off. Usually for a workday, I get up at 5:30. I had kicked the covers off me and I was pulling them on me and rolling around and looking at the ceiling when the earthquake hit.

It was a violent earthquake. I lived in Van Nuys when we had the '71 earthquake. Immediately, my mind flashed back to 1971. It was a real violent, direct hitting, solid shaking (earthquake), as opposed to '71. I remember back at my dad's house and opening the door to my room and standing out in the back yard and I could see the patio and the wall doing a wave. This one was completely different. This one was quick, violent, sustained, as if someone was hitting you with an uppercut. Just pounding the foundation of the house.

It's like "The Exorcist." The bed in my bedroom was literally lifting off the ground and smacking into the floor and everything was shaking around me.

My wife woke up and she started screaming, "Oh, my God!" For whatever reason, she ended up at the end of the bed and was kind of like huddling on the end of the bed. I was grabbing the headboard. Then the thing stopped, and I yelled down to the kids. By now, my little one, Patrick, was screaming, "Dad! Dad! What's wrong?" So, I went downstairs. We got them all together.

My father passed away in November. My mother and father lived about a mile and a half away from me. My mom now lives there by herself. She had never lived by herself. So, I told the family, "Get the flashlights going, and all of you just stay in the family room. I'm going to be back. I've got to get to my mom."

I went to my car, and the thing that struck me was the eeriness. Everything was totally dark. I remember thinking the headlights on my car weren't doing the job because I'm used to more light. There was no power. So when I got to my mom's, I pulled my car onto the front of her lawn and lit up the front of her house.

The neighbor next door yelled at me, "Are you checking on her?" I said yes. So, I banged on the door and got my mom. I opened the door and she was visibly shaking. I just said, "Let's go. You're coming with me."

When I got back to my house, I got the flashlight, checking for damage, and told my wife, "As soon as I'm done here, I'm going into work." I got the radio going and I knew we had been hit hard in the West San Fernando Valley.

As I'm coming into the station, I wonder if I can handle the news media in the lobby, because I knew they were going to be here, but when I got here they weren't here. They were out at the train derailment, Northridge mall, gas main blowup.

I walked into the station, and it was on its knees. Total bedlam. Everything was tipped over. You couldn't walk without having to step over file cabinets, desks. The walls were cracked. The ceiling panels were on the ground. The lights were out. There was so much destruction here that when they set up the CP (command post), they couldn't get into the room where we keep our radios. It took them an hour and 15 minutes to clear the debris away.

When I walked in, everything was on the ground. This place was trashed. Shotguns. Everything was trashed. Morning watch is not what you would call a heavily deployed watch, so I knew there weren't a lot of people working.

I was operations lieutenant, which meant I was in charge of all units, where they were going, what their assignments are to be. Making all the necessary liaisons with building and safety. It's almost like a blur now that I think about it.

You immediately do a roll call of officers right over the air to see if they're OK, and Jim (Lt. Jim Cansler) had done that, which really impressed me. Now, we know what our force is. Then I assigned people to call everyone at home and tell them to get in.

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