By Kevin Modesti, Staff Writer
NORTHRIDGE – It was 3,000 miles away and far more destructive than anything they’ve been through, but the Haiti earthquake hit close to home for long-time residents of the quake-prone San Fernando Valley.
For Bobbie Koszdin of Northridge, the televised scenes from Haiti are shaking awake bad memories of the 1994 Northridge quake – 16 years ago Sunday – as well as the deadly temblors in Sylmar in 1971 and Long Beach in 1933.
“I think we have a sense of how terrified those people (in Haiti) must have been,” said Koszdin, 80, whose house sustained $150,000 in damage in 1994.
For Dennis DeYoung, president of the Northridge West Neighborhood Council, seeing Haitians in the streets is a reminder of how the fear of aftershocks and loss of power and water prompted his family to move into a motor home in the front yard for a short time after the ’94 quake.
“I can see why the people in Haiti refuse to go back indoors,” DeYoung said.
For Wayne Adelstein, president of the North Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce, hearing about Haitians unable to track down loved ones brings back the hours after the ’71 quake. At the time, Adelstein lived in his Valley State College (now Cal State Northridge) fraternity house. His parents and two sisters lived in Granada Hills.
“The early reports were that the (Van Norman) Dam had given way. I remember thinking, `Oh, my God! My family!’ It was sheer panic,” Adelstein said this week.
Adelstein said he quickly learned the dam had not broken, though concerns about damage would force his family to evacuate for about a week. He got in touch with his parents within hours of the quake.
Koszdin, DeYoung and Adelstein all emphasized that their experiences with earthquakes in Southern California do not match the tragedy in Haiti.
The Northridge quake had a magnitude of 6.7 and caused 57 deaths and 9,000 injuries, Sylmar was a 6.6 and killed 65, and Long Beach was a 6.4 and killed 115. The Haiti quake on Tuesday measured 7.0 – about twice as powerful as Northridge – and is thought to have cost at least 100,000 lives.
Adelstein said his trouble reaching his family in 1971 because police had cordoned off major streets leading to the Northeast San Fernando Valley was a mere annoyance compared to Haitians’ struggles now.
“I can’t possibly, in my wildest imagination, think what those people are going through in Haiti,” said Adelstein, 61, who lives in Thousand Oaks and owns a publishing business in Northridge.
Seeing the devastation in Haiti has made veterans of the Los Angeles-area quakes grateful that the damage here was limited by superior building codes, infrastructure and emergency response.
Still, they feel some kinship with the people of Port-au-Prince, and say it reminds them of the potential for the Big One to strike California.
“I think those of us who live in earthquake country are familiar with the power of nature and have a stronger sensitivity to the plight of these people,” Adelstein said.
DeYoung said he donated $250 to the American Red Cross for Haiti relief, and thinks “anyone who’s been through (an earthquake) is going to be more compelled to help.”
There are no statistics to say if Angelenos are donating more generously than others to help Haiti, according to Monica Diaz, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross of Greater Los Angeles. Diaz said “hundreds of thousands of dollars” have poured in to the L.A. chapter.
James Kellenberger, a retired professor of philosophy at Cal State Northridge, said Americans feel an obligation to try to help whether or not they’ve lived through an earthquake.
“It may not escape the sensibilities of Americans that they are well-off and there is a moral duty here,” Kellenberger said. “When I heard about that dire situation (in Haiti), I got on the phone and made a donation, but it didn’t cross my mind that it was similar to the Northridge earthquake. I think I would react the same to people who who have been through a volcanic eruption.”
Ramin Saberzadeh, owner of the Exotic Image private fitness center in Northridge – a few hundred yards from where the Northridge Meadows apartment-building collapse killed 16 people in the ’94 quake – said he plans to gather donations from employees and clients.
“It’s not because of (what happened in Northridge),” Saberzadeh said. “It’s wanting to help thousands of humans.”