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18 Years Ago: The Night My Insomnia Started. How Did the Northridge Quake Affect You?

The Northridge Earthquake-the beginning of my ambien.

The Northridge earthquake was a massive quake that occurred on Jan. 17, 1994, at 4:31 a.m. (minutes from when I'm writing this article). That earthquake was the beginning of my insomnia and the beginning of my nightly intake of Ambien.

I had been working at Channel 9 news, so, in the back of my mind, I was prepared for "something." The week before the quake, the news had been reporting on many, many small quakes off the Santa Monica Bay. So I had my flashlight in my bed. I was sleeping in clothes getting ready to run. My shoes were right next to my bed. So when all that shaking started, I went right into "fireman mode." I climbed over furniture in my room to hit the wall light. The light wouldn't go on. I grabbed the phone to make a call. No signal. SHIT! Just then another shaker rolled through my third floor Toluca Lake apartment and I threw myself against a wall. I couldn't believe this was it! Was I watching the end of the world? When would the shaking stop?'

I heard some people in the hallway and joined them. I took my glasses, my keys, one flashlight and two coats. I put one coat on. In the hallway, one neighbor was knocking on each door to get people out of the building. One older woman was completely distraught. I handed her my extra coat and led her outside her apartment. I led the way down the stairs. I felt most confident to do this as I had been given the Channel 9 instructions all week. Look up, look for hanging wires, look down, make sure there is a step to step on, walk slowly. Speak confidently.

Once we were outside, our group joined another group. This was Toluca Lake, just across the street from Paty's restaurant and the ground still shook even after the worst was over. The 6.7 quake was indeed over, but there were literally thousands of aftershocks, and transformers were still popping all around us. It was surreal.

I was able to get my car out of the garage when a man opened the gate manually. I was off to go check on my two nephews, ages 1 and 6, who lived three miles away. They were with their father. Their mother had taken her first R&R mini-vacation and felt the quake in Las Vegas. She was out of her room the minute she felt the quake and got the last flight back into Burbank airport.

When I arrived at the house, my brother-in-law was sweeping up many, many pieces of their precious Depression glass collection. Pink, green, yellow pieces of glass that would never be the same. But that was inconsequential.

I walked straight back into the baby's room. He was standing in his crib, smiling. Babies, ya gotta love em! I picked him up and brought him into the dad's bed, where my other nephew already was. Between him and me, I can't remember how many Pepto Bismols we shared ... but it was a lot. Both of us have very sensitive stomachs.

After a while, my brother-in-law got tired and all four of us tried to lie down and get some sleep. But that was impossible because the 1-year-old was up, and you know what that means. The joy and happiness of a 1-year-old is very clear. "What's all the fuss about? Let's play!"

What were your experiences on that day?

Such an unnerving experience. I don't think I'll ever feel safe again. Hope you have something that can take your mind off scary things like these in our world.

Thank God for my art! www.lauriefreitag.com

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Leigh Datzker January 17, 2012 at 07:51 PM
For those of us in the Chatsworth Hills, 1-17-94 was a rude awakening to be sure. First of all, this was a magnitude 7.2 quake with ground shaking over 8 and 9 at the Northridge Meadows. (Interesting how the government avoids the law that triggers with mortgage abeyance after a 7.0 quake..i.e. Sylmar dropped to 6.3 and Northridge dropped well below 7.2) I was the last customer at Unos that Sunday night at the NR Mall and unfortunately it was the manger's last night as well as a tragic tenant at the NR Meadows. The 1994 quake was less of a financial tragedy as many of us were in our teens in 1971 and got earthquake insurance when we bought out homes. The 1994 Quake was very instructive on issues of being in islolation and having made preparations, although we were on a different water system and electrical grid that the city of L.A. in Box Canyon. It was also a positive event bringing neighbors together as well as learning about 'thrust faults' in our southland.
Laurie Freitag January 18, 2012 at 03:03 AM
Sorry about the typos...good grief!
Craig Brooker, MD January 18, 2012 at 07:05 PM
Go to http://www.InsomniaDoc.com to get research-based advice on how to treat insomnia from a Cleveland Clinic-trained Sleep Doctor and Neurologist, Dr. Craig Brooker, M.D.
Jobber January 19, 2012 at 01:51 AM
I used to always sleep with my bare feet sticking out from under the sheets. It was a pleasure as the coolness of the air would run over my toes and ankles. It was a pleasure that i no longer would fee since the earthquake! The earthquake hit and I had jumped barefoot front the bed, ran to my babies room, and grabbed the little one before the roof fell down. We hid under a frame for hours, and at a later time, in the dark, I stepped through broken glass with bleeding feet to get us both to safety. I now wear heavy, heavy woolen socks to bed every night. No more do I feel the cool breeze at night. :-( A small price to pay for my life and my child's health. Thank you, God........ for the reminder, and the woolen socks, too.
Jesse Casique January 19, 2012 at 05:16 AM
I lived at the Northridge Meadows on the 3rd floor. I had just gotten home from a family gathering. I had changed into my pj's. My mom was already asleep so I quietly went to bed. An hour later I was awaken by the unforgettable horrible earthquake. I was able to get into my apartment by being lifted and taken into the unit by a crane was was able to retrieve pics, and my file cabinet. I found the contract I signed with "Pat" the manager and have all the receipts. I took a few pics of the place as I retrieved some of my items. Have never been able to get in touch with anyone from there but would like to. Yesterday was a very sad day for me as it always is every year on the 17th of January. Anyone out there who would like to get in touch with me can email me at nuuanu747@hotmail.com Jesse.
Cathy Flynn January 19, 2012 at 04:59 PM
I also lived in Toluca Lake at the time and I remember the huge rumbling, glass crashing and my 6'5" 270 lb husband screaming like a baby. I was silent and certain I was going to die. Our 200+ wine cabinet crashed to the floor and we never got the stench of red wine out of the room. I ended up having to see one of the free counselors that were offered after the quake because of my constant anxiety. To this day, I get nervous if I'm stuck in traffic under an overpass or on a long bridge.
Laura January 20, 2012 at 12:33 AM
I was an East Coast transplant who had been living here for six years, and who had always thought earthquakes were kind of fun. Jan 17, 1994 changed my mind on that. I lived in an apartment building in Sherman Oaks that was condemned. During the quake I recall transformers exploding outside the window, things crashing around me, and vividly remember the surreal morning that followed, the Ralphs on Ventura in flames, the contents of my fridge spilled on the floor with the exception of a carton of eggs that emerged unscathed. And the week that followed, as my entire street was jammed with people vacating red-tagged buildings, and the lines of people outside Pavilions who were handing shopping lists to employees who would go inside to fetch the goods. FEMA set up offices in Van Nuys/Sherman Oaks park, alongside people sleeping in the park, afraid to be back in their homes. I still wish I had film in my camera back then. But the images are with me to this day. After that, I swore to never stop my car under an overpass, to always wear something to bed, and to have a flashlight, shoes and my glasses at the ready. And in the years that have followed, I've lapsed on all of those things.
Laurie Freitag January 31, 2012 at 03:50 PM
Thank you for this information!
Laurie Freitag January 31, 2012 at 03:51 PM
Laura, I hear ya!
Laurie Freitag January 31, 2012 at 03:52 PM
Jesse, I'm just reading your comments now. Boy, I hope someone out there sees this story and contacts you! : )

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