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Hearts of L.A. / How the Quake Rocked Our Spirits and Changed Our Lives : BINDING THE WOUNDS : 'I need help. I need to move as soon as possible.'

January 30, 1994|Irma Munoz | Munoz, 30, mother of three, ages 2, 5, 7, is a volunteer at Cahuenga Elementary School. She is a Guatemalan immigrant who has lived in Los Angeles 15 years. Her apartment near Beverly Boulevard and Kenmore Street in Los Angeles was damaged in the quake. She and her children have been staying with friends until she decides where to move. and

I've gone through an earthquake in Guatemala in '76. So right away when my bed started moving I knew it was an earthquake. The first thing I did was to throw the blankets on my children and embrace them and try to protect them as much as I could. When the shaking didn't stop and everything felt like it was coming down, my children were yelling, "Mommy, Mommy, please help us!"

They said at school they had taught them to get under the table. But I told them we couldn't because I felt that the building was coming down on us. We live on the third floor. They were yelling for their kitty. The kitty broke a leg; something fell on him.

My neighbors who know that I live alone knocked on the door so we could get out. They helped us get the children down in the dark. We didn't have a flashlight available. We just wanted to come out running. But when we were going down the stairs, it began to shake. It was very sad to see people who weren't able to leave the apartment. A lady hurt her knee badly. They had to go get her. She was the last one to come out.

Right now, I'm staying with different friends. The building hasn't been inspected like it should be. As you can see, there are still aftershocks and we can't put our lives in risk. We all know that the building is not OK. The majority of families have already left.

When you walk too fast upstairs in the apartment, the building feels like it moves. It feels like it's shaking. It's not my nerves.

We are begging city inspectors to come and inspect the building. If they can at least go and check so that people won't risk their children's lives. There's many people who have two, three kids like me.

It's a big problem what we're going through with our building. What the owner wants us to do is to pay rent. The few of us who are left are waiting to see if the building will still be livable. My things are in there, but I'm not planning to live there. I won't risk my children's lives.

It has been sad for us. I had no money. The neighbors would give me eggs and bread for the kids. We were cooking outside. We had no gas for a whole week. Yesterday the Salvation Army helped me with $56 to buy food. They made me fill out a form to see if I qualify for public housing.

Volunteering at the school helps the nerves. After school I'll cook or bring something for the kids to eat. Sometimes they don't want to eat. Then I put them to do homework. Every day homework.

I need help. I need to move as soon as possible. That's the most important thing for the well-being of my children. Right now I depend on welfare's help to pay my rent and everything else.

Personally, right now, I carry this pain in my heart. It's sad to see, coming from another country like I do, that I am going through this. But thank God that He sent us this earthquake in the early morning instead of during the day. There would have been many more deaths. It would have caused the pain in my heart to be bigger for the children in many schools.

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