Perhaps the full measure of any natural disaster is not found in the chaos and wreckage that follow immediately. Perhaps that measure comes only through recognition of the time required for complete recovery. Eighteen months after the Northridge earthquake, it cannot be said with confidence that the region is even halfway back to normal.
The period of symbolic--and most easily addressed--recovery is over. What remains to be done is substantial, and not without controversy. Washington is not going to pay for everything. Big parts of the burden must be borne by nearly bankrupt Los Angeles County, the city, the state, the residents.
The Times series "The Road to Recovery 18 Months Out" points out that one in four residents responding to a recent Times Poll reported lingering financial woes. One in 10 were at least $10,000 short of the sum needed for repairs. One in 10 homeowners polled reported having to move. One in four apartment dwellers had been permanently uprooted. A third said that insurance claims were unsettled.
In the city of Los Angeles alone, work remains to be done under 77% of the building permits issued since the quake, and that doesn't count universities and hospitals. In hard-hit areas outside the zone nearest the epicenter, such as Sherman Oaks and Hollywood, the recovery has hardly begun. Just 30% of retail, office and apartment repairs have been completed, just 17% of single-family home repairs and just 14% of condominium repairs.