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Hearts of L.A. / How the Quake Rocked Our Spirits and Changed Our Lives : COPING WITH CHAOS : 'The only thing I know is, God took care of us.'

January 30, 1994|John Christiano and Martha Quispe | When the Northridge Meadows apartment building fell in on Christiano and his fiance Quispe, they were trapped in their bedroom under tons of rubble. "It was so quiet and eerie, you couldn't hear a soul," he said. "I thought maybe the whole world was gone." and Born and raised in Northridge, Christiano, 36, is a former auto assembler who was disabled two years ago with a back condition and has been unemployed since. Quispe, 35, is a native of Peru and has been in Los Angeles for seven years. She works as a nanny. and

John recounts the couple's ordeal: I was awakened by a tremendous roar and cracking and Martha screaming my name. I jumped out of bed and grabbed her, and just as I tried to open the bedroom door, the second floor came down on us. We were pinned face to face, lying on our sides. It was very hard to breathe.

Martha looked like she was going to black out. I said, "You aren't going to die, are you?" and she said, "No," and then she yelled, "God, please help us!'

I got my hand free, but I still felt pinned. I moved my left foot and asked, "Martha, can you feel my toes moving?" I thought maybe she could move down there, so we can get more oxygen.

I tried to move my leg so she could slide down below me so she could breathe. I turned to slide down next to her, but the ceiling was moving, so I had to move slowly, especially with more tremors happening.

We wriggled over to a window, and I tried to open it, but I couldn't. So I tore away chunks of the drywall from the interior wall, then the wires and insulation inside the wall. I finally got to the concrete stucco and kept breaking away at it until I could get my hand out through to the outside. Finally I got my head out through the hole and started screaming for help.

Someone came from around the courtyard. "Hang on! Hang on!" they yelled back. I said: "We don't have any time. Help us!" I knew I was going to lose my head if there were any more tremors.

I thought that I've got to break this wall with my upper back and knees. At this point, I tried and tried, but I was running out of energy and felt like I was going to pass out.

I yelled, "Martha, we're going to die here!" And she said: "Try it again, John. You can do it, try again." I pushed at it again, and finally about the fifth time, I snapped the wall about a foot back and a three-foot-long piece came out and we both scrambled out and into the courtyard. We climbed through the second-floor area to get out of the complex.

On the street, I tried to get a ride to my parents' house, but people would just slow down and look at us in our shredded pajamas. Finally a woman stopped and took us down Reseda Boulevard to Roscoe (Boulevard), where a man picked us up and took us to my parents' house.

My mom asked, "How did you get over here. Did you drive over here?" I said, "Drive? Our cars are crushed. We lost everything. All we have is this, our pajamas."

Added Martha: "The only thing I know is, God took care of us. And He was with us all the time. We lost material things but the important thing is, we have each other."

We're slowly getting back. We retrieved a few things, mostly clothing and photographs.

( And amid the rubble of Apt. 138, the couple salvaged a family treasure and in it , they take hope: )

"A white ceramic angel that my mom gave us was in perfect shape on the floor just sitting there," John said. "It was like a message. We're determined everything will be fine."

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