KTTV 70: The Sylmar Quake

Though we have always called it "The Sylmar Quake" what happened in 1971 was officially called "The San Fernando Earthquake". It was powerful and deadly.

The date was February 9th, 1971, at 6 a.m. The earthquake struck causing great devastation across the region. 65 people were killed. There were thousands of injuries. Entire buildings collapsed. One of the hardest hit places was the VA Hospital.

Alonzo Whitaker was there at the time. He told our KTTV reporter and photographer, "I thought that I was going to be killed."

Supervising Nurse Gloria Meutzel thought the quake was a major attention-getter telling our crew at the time, "I didn't know what an earthquake was like. I didn't know it was an earthquake."

"The San Fernando Valley of 1971 was almost exactly the same size as the Northridge earthquake. They both have a magnitude of 6.7 and what made them so devastating is that they were right underneath us," said retired USGS seismologist Dr. Lucy Jones.

The quake triggered a thousand landslides, there were concerns about the Van Norman, the interchange connecting the 5 and 14 freeways in the Newhall pass took it on the jaw.

Glenn Pomeroy is the CEO of the California Earthquake Authority which provides homeowners and renters earthquake insurance.

He says as bad as it was it, "could have been worse. The earthquake occurred early in the morning. It could have been in the middle of the day. We would have been looking at an even more significant loss of life."

To Pomeroy and Jones, what happened back then taught us about construction and things we need to do to make it better when the ground shakes.

For the Sylmar Quake overall damage was estimated to be over a half a billion dollars. Damage to 180 schools, 30,000 homes, 62 freeway bridges, and 80,000 people fled their homes.

It's a reminder of how devastating an earthquake can be. This is another story from our KTTV archives.