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Hearts of L.A. / How the Quake Rocked Our Spirits and Changed Our Lives : MAKING SENSE : 'I realized it was not a nightmare, but reality.'

January 30, 1994|Kakuyei Tada | Tada, 63, a priest at the San Fernando Valley Hongwangi, a Buddhist temple in Pacoima, has lived through several big earthquakes. He was born in Canada and grew up in Japan, where, as a teen-ager, he experienced his first big quake. and

I was a teen-ager when a 7.2 earthquake hit Japan in 1943. It happened in the early morning, before dawn. I was sleeping on the second floor of a Japanese house that was 10 years old. I remember they didn't report very much on the earthquake at that time because of the war. The Japanese government did not fully report on the earthquakes because information like that could be used against Japan by the Allies.

Old houses collapsed, but there was no fatality that I remember in my village. I don't know if any person got injured or not. We had very few paved roads; we depended on the horse and buggy and bicycles.

I was afraid, but we accepted an earthquake of this kind as part of the Japanese culture. Life must go on. And don't forget it was the war, and we had to fight the war. It's a frightening thing. . . . When you experience Mother Nature like this, you feel completely out of control. But it is a culture where you accept death.

Later, when I was a freshman in college, I remember the 1948 earthquake. I remember it happened in June, in the daytime, maybe around noon. I was in the college dormitory on the second floor and I was the only student, I think, in that building because other students had returned home for vacation. You have to remember this is after the war, and many Japanese were starving, so they shortened the academic year. School closed at the end of June, due to lack of food. It's unthinkable, but it happened. Suddenly the building started shaking, and I thought it would collapse.

For this (Jan. 17) earthquake, I was home. I was half-asleep, and I thought it was like a nightmare. But after a few seconds, I realized it was not a nightmare, but reality, so I had to get up.

The 1948 earthquake was the most frightening, more than this one. I was in the dormitory, which was an old wooden structure and there no fire escape or emergency exit.

I don't mind the earthquake. No matter where you go, you have Mother Nature of some kind. My fear is not of death, but of uncertainty.

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