Northridge Earthquake 30 years later: Remembering survivors' stories

Jan. 17, 2024 marks 30 years since the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, which killed nearly 60 people and injured nearly 10,000. 

The quake struck around 4:30 a.m. that morning. For me, it was a really rude wake-up call. I was 20 miles from the epicenter, in Simi Valley, and my house and everything in it rocked for 10 to 20 very long seconds. A bookcase fell and gave me a karate chop across my leg. Once I got up and stabilized, I was off to work.

My assignment that day was at the Northridge Meadows Apartments. The building was so heavily shaken by the quake, that the top two floors flattened the first floor, killing 16 people. Three people on the first floor survived. 

Two weeks after the earthquake, I spoke with two of those survivors — Jerry Prezioso and Steve Langdon. They both recalled screaming for help from under the rubble.

"Help! That's what I was trying to say, and I shouted with all my might," Prezioso said back in 1994.

Langdon recalled being "face down, and my face was toward the bed and I had the dresser up against the side of my head… And then I had the ceiling on top of my head."

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Prezioso said he remembered he "kept telling [Langdon] to hang on."

"All I could think was ‘I'm going to make it or else I wouldn't be alive at that point," Langdon said then.

When asked about the 16 people who died in their apartment complex, Prezioso said, "Yes, yes. He rolls the dice and no one knows how he picks the numbers. He doesn't tell us why Steve and I are alive. Maybe someday he will."

Looking back, I remember all the fires from broken pipes and leaking gas finding ignition sources like pilot lights. I remember how all the gas stations were closed, which is why I try t make sure that at night I have gas in my tank. And, I remember one more thing Jerry Prezioso said back in 1994. He told me he survived because he went to the bathroom right before the quake, so he didn't end up being crushed under his bed.

"That's fate I'll tell you," he said then. "If I didn't have to go to the john, I would've been gone."

The U.S. Geological Survey is asking other people who felt the quake that day to submit recollections of their experiences on their website.