NORTHRIDGE — The remembrances began in darkness and ended in darkness Tuesday, like the scenes of communal terror they commemorated.
At 4:31 a.m., a year to the minute after Angelenos awoke to a living nightmare, a crowd of 500 stood at the vacant lot that once was Northridge Meadows, the apartments where 16 tenants died in their beds as the 6.7-magnitude temblor brought the ceiling crashing to the ground.
And 15 hours later, another candlelight procession filed by the chain-link fence surrounding the empty lot that marks the site of the Northridge earthquake's most enduring symbol.
In between came a bustling day of anniversary rites: an upbeat speech by President Clinton, whirlwind appearances by Mayor Richard Riordan, reunions of former strangers drawn together in that day of crisis and, at last, the emergence of earthquake humor in "Come As You Were Parties."
But hopes of healing the memories with laughter or ritual eluded many as the day's observances resonated with the news of a far more destructive quake striking Japan with cruel coincidence on the anniversary day.
"People of Kobe, We Sympathize," said one of the handwritten memorials posted to the fence surrounding the Northridge Meadows property.
Some saw it as more than a coincidence.
"It says that we're going to be shaken again here too," said Phyllis Greenwald, a department store employee at the Sherman Oaks Galleria. "So, batten down the hatches."
Public officials, including Clinton, treaded lightly on the suffering in Japan, sticking to their messages of hope and confidence.
Surrounded by thousands of well-wishers outside a partially rebuilt Cal State Northridge library, Clinton hailed the federal earthquake relief effort as proof of his argument against Republicans that government "can work."
"Some people say government is inherently bad, always gets in the way and never amounts to anything," Clinton said.
Then, gesturing at a landscape of heavy construction equipment and newly repaired campus buildings, he asserted: "I say, look at the difference."
The federal assistance program has funneled about $12 billion to approximately 600,000 Californians, and in the process helped raise Clinton's standing in the state. The President, who traveled to the Sacramento area afterward to inspect flood damage, said that he would renew his pledge to continue the effort until the job was done.
As some local officials noted, however, it is still uncertain whether Clinton and Congress will be able to come up with the $3 billion to $6 billion that Administration officials have estimated may be needed to complete the quake recovery.
Appearing beside Riordan, Clinton lauded the Cal State Northridge campus for reopening just weeks after the quake, despite an estimated $350 million in damage.
"You are now the symbol of the ability of the people of this state to keep coming back after adversity upon adversity," he said.
He also wryly praised a Northridge Little League team, dubbed the Earthquake Kids, which won the national Little League championship and "did something the pros couldn't--kept baseball going."
Making the theme of his day rebuilding, Riordan got started with a slew of local, state and federal dignitaries at Art's Deli, the 37-year Studio City landmark that burned to the ground following the Northridge quake but was rebuilt nine months later.
Speaking to about 100 diners and an army of television crews, Riordan said Art's represents the resiliency of Los Angeles. And, besides, "wherever there is lox and bagels, there is love and caring," the mayor said.
Later, speaking before a disaster-response conference at Universal City, Riordan said the quake forced the city to modernize its outdated emergency response equipment and put more energy into preparing for the next disaster.
"We've come a long way and we will continue to improve our emergency response programs," he told the conference, which was hosted by the state Office of Emergency Services and attended by about 200 city officials. "We will continually push the envelope to keep Los Angeles prepared for action."
Echoing Riordan's message, a nonprofit business assistance group, the Valley Economic Development Center, handed out "phoenix" awards to businesses that overcame overwhelming damage to rebuild after the quake.
Among the 33 business owners honored at the Sportsmen's Lodge in Studio City was Dan Sandel, owner of Devon Industries, a medical supplies manufacturer in Chatsworth who got a $9.1-million loan from Small Business Administration, the largest disaster loan in U. S. history. Sandel persuaded SBA officials to grant him an exception to its $1.5-million loan cap.
"The year was incredible for me because I learned the power of the government," he said. "It made me a believer."