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Earthquake leaves elevator service shaky across Southern California

Sunday's 7.2 quake in Baja California stopped or slowed service in many buildings, as earthquake sensors forced automatic power shutdowns.

April 06, 2010|By Kate Linthicum

Three strangers waited for the elevator in the lobby of a Mid-Wilshire-area office building Monday morning. One of them pushed the "up" button. Nothing happened.

He pushed it again. Still nothing.

Five long minutes passed. Resigned, the man took a Korean-language newspaper from a stand and started reading.

Similar scenes played out across the region Monday after Sunday's magnitude 7.2 earthquake in Baja California stopped or slowed elevator service in many Southern California buildings.

"The calls are rolling in," said Michael Mateyko, an elevator repairman with Hoist Elevator Co. in downtown Los Angeles.

Mateyko said building managers phoned him to say "Hey, our elevators are down. What's up?"

Most elevators that were built or retrofitted in the last couple of decades have two earthquake detection sensors.

One is a seismic reader in the elevator's machine room, and the other is a thin wire that hangs the length of the shaft.

If the seismometer detects movement, or if the wire sways, the circuit trips and the elevator automatically stops.

On Sunday, the Los Angeles Fire Department freed several people trapped when earthquake sensors shut off power.

And elevator repair companies were busy restoring service.

After a shutdown, the elevator must be inspected and the sensor reset. Chris Gardilcic of Caliber Elevator Inc. said his company had been swamped.

To the chagrin of security guards at the Wilshire State Bank building, the repairmen had not yet arrived Monday morning to restart three elevators halted by the quake (a fourth was working but was sluggish).

"Hola, Jose," one of them said to a maintenance worker who was one of the three people waiting to go up. "The earthquake messed up the elevators."

But Jose, who was headed to the top of the 14-floor structure, was lugging a heavy tool bag and did not want to climb the stairs.

He and the others said they would wait for the single working elevator, even after the guard warned it would be a slow ride.

"That 7.2 . . . whoa," the guard said when the elevator finally came and he ushered the group onboard. "The house was wobbling side to side."

Just before the doors closed, a woman squeezed in. "Twelve, please," she requested, shaking rain from her umbrella.

The guard told her he would take the three passengers who had been waiting to their floors first.

"Oh, my God!" the woman said, dropping her bag on the floor in a huff.

"My bad for the inconvenience," he apologized.

"I really don't understand," she said. "I really don't get it."

The elevator crept from floor to floor, depositing the passengers one by one.

When the rain-soaked woman finally stepped off, the guard smiled.

When it was time for the people to come down, they'd have to take the stairs.

kate.linthicum @latimes.com

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