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Rising From the Ashes

July 20, 1994|Research by JULIO MORAN and JEFF PRUGH / Los Angeles Times

One of the most horrific images of the Jan. 17 Northridge earthquake was the double-whammy that hit a stretch of Balboa Boulevard in Granada Hills. The moment the earth violently shook, two water mains broke, causing an explosion that propelled a 300-pound chunk of asphalt through the roof of the home of Joseph and Zetella Partlow and creating a river that ran south to Rinaldi Street.

An hour later, the turn of the ignition key of a stalled pickup truck at Balboa and Rinaldi ignited a broken gas line that exploded, creating a 10-foot-deep crater and spewing flames 100 feet high. Five homes in the 11600 block of Balboa Boulevard burned to the ground.

Two days later, President Clinton paid a brief visit to the site, listening to stories of homes destroyed, lives rescued and families disrupted. In a speech he gave later about providing aid, he said, "We have a national responsibility. This is something we intend to stay with until the job is over."

Six months later, the rebuilding continues. The water and gas lines have been repaired and a patch of new asphalt on the street marks the spot where the craters once were.

The five lots remain empty, with at least two for sale. The owners of a third lot plan to rebuild starting next month.

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11647 Balboa Blvd.

Two days after his house burned to the ground, Calvin Lee stood amid the ashes and said he'd rebuild. Lee has since traded the property to a builder.

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11655 Balboa Blvd.

Al and Rosemary McNeill escaped unhurt from the blaze that destroyed their home of 19 years. They plan to rebuild next month using their earthquake insurance settlement.

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11661 Balboa Blvd.

A retired couple escaped unhurt from the fire before it destroyed their home. The remains of the home have been cleared. Weeds now occupy the empty lot, which is for sale.

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11701 Balboa Blvd.

A plastic tarp held down by bricks on the roof and plywood over a broken side window remain on the home. At the south end of the property, a collapsed brick wall remains down.

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11709 Balboa Blvd.

The house, which was vacant and for sale on Jan. 17, has been green tagged, indicating there is no significant damage. The house remains empty and on the market.

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11646 Balboa Blvd.

Phillip and Dawn Herrera have nearly completed rebuilding their badly damaged home. Herrera says repairs are done as money comes in.

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11652 Balboa Blvd.

Two days after the quake, when President Clinton visited the scarred street, Kevin Patrick pleaded with the President to send help. Insurance settlements have allowed Patrick to rebuild.

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11658 Balboa Blvd.

The lot remains empty after the home was destroyed by fire. The Partlows have moved to Northern California and could not be reached for comment on their plans for the lot.

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Owner unknown

Residents fled unhurt after neighbors alerted them to the fire which destroyed the home. Yellow emergency tape still hangs from the chain-link fence that surrounds the empty lot.

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11710 Balboa Blvd.

On Jan. 17, five fraternity brothers living in the house saved their home by scooping water from the pool. A wood fence has replaced the fallen brick wall.

A Survivor's Tale

An hour after the quake, Jimmy Menzi, a Simi Valley mechanic, was headed to check on his mother in Santa Clarita. His pickup truck stalled in the flooded intersection of Balboa and Rinaldi and with a turn of the key, the broken gas line exploded in flames. Menzi's pickup truck was immediately engulfed in flames. Though Menzi survived, his truck and his tools were lost to the fire. He was hospitalized for two weeks with burns to 30% of his body.

Six months later, his burns are still healing. A friend loaned him a truck until he was able to buy a new one in March. Some tools were replaced through donations.

Menzi had his two dogs with him when his truck was caught in the flames. One dog died in the fire, but Bimbo, the other dog, escaped and was eventually found by passersby who took the dog to a pet hospital. Bimbo's $50,000 surgery made her a minor celebrity before she succumbed to her injuries. Menzi has since adopted a new dog from the animal shelter and appropriately named it Quake.

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