I had just returned to bed. Suddenly thunder sounded, announcing the collapse of the Northridge Meadows apartment complex as it "sat down on itself" . . . and on me. I was to remain buried underneath this complex for nearly six hours.
Six hours of darkness, of pain, of hearing the rescuers hard at work--all around me. Then came that dreadful moment. The drilling stopped. The rescuers were leaving! That nails from the structure had pierced my abdomen meant nothing in that moment--I would learn later that the heavy beams pressing down upon my legs actually prevented me from bleeding to death! Without hesitation, I began yelling at the top of my dust-filled lungs. A rescue worker heard a " . . . noise, like a doll . . . "
They first saw my feet then reached in and cut the nails. Pulled from darkness, two visions were instantaneously burned into my memory. First, the bluest sky I had ever seen in my life. And second, the expressions of relief on the faces of former strangers, now comrades.
Grateful to my rescuers Mike Henry and the Station 72 team. I perpetually bestow upon them my prayers and jars of homemade Italian sauce. In doing their job, they saved a life which has come to honor life!
Having stood at death's door numerous times, I wonder why God keeps throwing me back! Gerard Prezioso
The first thing I noticed when I got off the firetruck was a civilian tearing at the base of (Northridge Meadows) with a hammer. He said there was somebody under there.
"What is he doing under the building?" I asked.
"This is the first floor," he answered.
I stood back and shined a light at the roof line. It was the only indication that the building had dropped a floor.
It was then that I realized the magnitude of this incident. We could have had more than 100 people trapped under there. We had four men, one firetruck and no immediate help on the way.
We went to work; you could step into the second-floor windows from outside on the ground floor.
Our company was able to save three of the trapped victims. Sixteen others almost certainly died instantly.
The toughest part for me was not the physical work or danger, it was worrying about my own family. My mind would flash on images of my own wife and children buried under the same type of rubble as these people were.
Twenty-two hours later, I finally talked to my wife on the phone. There are no words to express the feelings from that conversation, but I thank God for taking care of my wife and two children when I couldn't be there.
Michael P. Henry
Los Angeles Fire Department
For the next two days (after the quake) I was on the 20-meter band relaying telephone messages to and from Valley residents to their families in other parts of the U.S. I had my little generator running with donated fuel from a neighbor and was able to relay more than 300 messages in and out of the epicenter.
During the disaster, several people knocked at my door to ask me to send messages to family and friends on the East Coast. They had seen my tower and had made a mental note: "If there was an emergency, one remarked, they knew 'that ham would help."
I was the first with Building and Safety to check in from Van Nuys, it was slightly before 5:30 a.m. and just getting light.
Van Nuys City Hall was a mess, but safe.
Citizens started arriving requesting inspections. We sent out inspectors as soon as they became available.
The inspection forces grew to over 700 inspectors over the next three weeks. . . .
Our efforts in the command center in the Valley were successful only through the efforts of all the employees of Building and Safety and Public Works. I am proud of what we accomplished. We showed the residents of the city that we are public servants with compassion and concern.
Principal Building Inspector
Department of Building and Safety
City of Los Angeles
The most gratifying part of my duties during the recovery period was to coordinate outside donations designated for schools. The response by people around the world was amazing.
From the thousands of dollars donated by the citizens of Berlin, Germany, to the $49.95 collected through a penny drive in a small school in Iowa, people responded to the plight of the children.
I have never witnessed such an outpouring of giving as I did during this period. We established many pen pal relationships between our schools and schools around the world.
Being able to observe and participate in such a wonderful project almost made the earthquake worth it all--but not quite.
Office of Emergency Services
Los Angeles Unified School District
ON THE WEB
More letters from readers sharing earthquake memories can be found on the Times web site at http://www.latimes.com/valleyquake.