Captain N: The Game Master
Author's note: The following story, although mostly fiction, is based on an actual event.
On Monday, January 17, 1994, at 4:30 AM, Pacific Standard Time, a magnitude 6.6 earthquake hit 34 degrees 12.80' N, 118 degrees 32.22' W, 20 miles west-northwest of Los Angeles, 1 mile south-southwest of Northridge, beneath the San Fernando Valley. The type of faulting was a blind thrust. The fault involved, although unnamed at the time, was the Northridge Thrust (also known as the Pico Thrust). The depth was 18.4 kilometers.
I have done a good deal of research for this episode, including checking online resources and a taped copy of the ABC News program, day one, which aired the day of the quake. I hope everything is accurate. If it isn't, please let me know.
The Keene family, Lana Deschain, Mike Vincent, Rick Walker, Stacey Anderson, Romeo Roberts, Julius Jones, and Kristen Shallowayne are ficticious. The people in the day one segments are real, and their names are used without permission. I included them to add a sense of realism.
Finally, this story is dedicated to the people that lost their lives during the 1994 Northridge Earthquake.
Sunday, January 16, 1994, 7:47 PM
Kevin Keene, Lana Deschain, and Kevin's parents, Ned and Cheryl, were sitting at the kitchen table, eating dinner.
"So," Cheryl asked, "how long are you two planning on staying here?"
"I dunno," Lana said, "but I needed to get away." She pressed her fingers to her temples. "I had a ton of appointments today. But I guess that's nothing new. I had to get out of there, so I left Zelda in charge and took off." She laughed. "Poor girl."
The Keenes laughed.
"And it's good to come back home every once-in-a-while." Kevin said.
"Well, you guys can stay as long as you like." Ned said.
"The others decided to come home, too." Kevin said, then smiled. "It's like a group vacation."
They all laughed.
Monday, January 17, 1994, 4:30 AM
Kevin and Lana had fallen asleep on Kevin's bed while watching the episode of "The Transformers" entitled "The Ultimate Doom". Currently, Bumblebee was about to fall through a hole created by an earthquake.
Suddenly, the room started shaking.
Kevin and Lana woke up.
"What's that?" Lana asked in a panic.
Kevin looked at the TV screen. The power had gone out.
Kevin groaned. "Oh, no, this isn't what I think it is, is it?"
Lana looked at the screen, then shook her head. "No."
"Then it must be an earthquake!" Kevin said. He stood up, pulling Lana to her feet. "C'mon. We gotta get to a doorway! It's the safest place!"
In Ned and Cheryl's bedroom, they were doing the exact same thing.
"Kevin!" Ned called.
"Kevin, can you hear us?!" Cheryl called.
Julius Jones woke up. "Duh, what's that?"
After a duration of fifteen seconds, the earthquake stopped.
Kevin and Lana carefully walked out into the hallway. They met Ned and Cheryl.
"Thank God you two are all right!" Cheryl said.
She and Ned hugged Kevin and Lana.
"This is my first earthquake." Lana said with a slight laugh.
"We better check out the damage." Kevin said.
"Careful, there may be aftershocks." Ned warned.
The house had sustained little structural damage, as it turned out. However, the place was a mess, and the power was out.
Kevin, Lana, Ned, and Cheryl were picking up fallen objects off of the living room floor.
Suddenly, the doorbell rang. Lana went to answer it. She unlocked and opened the front door.
Rick Walker was standing there with a worried look on his face. "Hey, are you guys all right?!"
"Rick!" Lana nodded. "Yeah, we're fine. You?"
Rick walked into the living room. "I'm fine, and so is everyone else."
Mike Vincent, Stacey Anderson, Romeo Roberts, Julius Jones, and Kristen Shallowayne walked into the living room.
Kristen gave Lana a hug. "Lana!"
Lana hugged her. "I'm okay, Kristen."
Kevin and Stacey also hugged each other.
"Kevy, I was so scared!" Stacey said.
"It's okay, Stace. It's over." Kevin assured her.
The two of them kissed softly.
Mike closed the door and locked it. "Man, that was scary!"
Kevin grinned. "The tough guy's admitting he was scared, huh?"
"Shut up, Keene."
"It was nice of you all to think of us." Cheryl said. "Well, as long as you're all here, can you help us clean up?"
"Okey-chokey-chicken!" Stacey said cheerfully.
"Who wants breakfast?" Cheryl asked.
"I'll have some waffles." Kevin said with a grin.
"Me, too." Lana added, grinning.
"You're getting pancakes." Cheryl said.
Dejected, Kevin and Lana sat at the kitchen table.
Ned sat down as well.
"Anyone else?" Cheryl asked.
"I gotta get home and help my parents clean up." Mike said.
"Like, me, too." Stacey said.
"We gotta get to class." Rick said.
After everyone said their good-byes, Mike, Stacey, Rick, Romeo, and Julius left.
"Kristen, breakfast?" Cheryl asked.
Kristen shook her head. "Nah, I gotta go to work."
"You have almost a half-hour. Sit." Cheryl said.
Kristen smiled and sat to Lana's right.
Cheryl came by carrying a plate full of pancakes. She placed it on the table. "Everybody dig in."
Cheryl sat down.
Kevin took some pancakes and placed them on his plate. "Man, I dunno why we gotta have these lousy pancakes."
"Yeah, waffles rule!" Lana said.
"Will the two of you please shut up?!"
"Yes, mom." Kevin said.
Rick was helping Mike clean up outside.
"Thanks for helping me, man." Mike said.
"No problem, man." Rick said.
Suddenly, the ground started shaking.
Mike and Rick fell to the ground.
"An aftershock!" Rick yelled. He crawled over to Mike.
Mike clutched his left leg in pain and gritted his teeth.
The shaking eventually stopped.
"Are you hurt?" Rick asked.
"I...landed on my leg." Mike said. "I - I think I pulled a muscle."
"Can you stand up?" Rick asked.
Rick helped Mike get to his feet. Mike stood on his right leg only.
"I'll drive you to the hospital." Rick said.
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
Mike walked into the waiting room.
Rick stood up. "Feeling better, man?"
Mike nodded. "Yeah."
The two of them left the building.
Elsewhere in the building, DIR Mary Flores was talking on the phone with ABC News anchor Forrest Sawyer.
"I presume you haven't been able to save everyone." Forrest said.
"Um, no, we have had three deaths today." Mary said.
"Are you beginning to see the - the people coming through there slack off? Is - is the flow at least beginning to die down a little bit?"
"Um, not really. Um, it's been pretty steady all afternoon. It's, uh, 5:25 our time here in California, and we still have a lot of people walking into our department."
"Well, you've got a tough job ahead of you through the night, Mary Flores." Forrest said. "Thank you for taking the time to talk with us - "
"You're welcome - "
" - as you do your job."
ABC News World Headquarters
Forrest Sawyer was sitting at a desk, anchoring the news program day one. "Uh, throughout the area, other hospitals are also facing those kinds of problems, but they are trying to handle it as well as they can. We'll bring you more information about that as the program goes on. When we come back, we're going to take a look at what was the real source of the trouble. It was an earthquake fault that had never been heard of...until today."
The picture on television sets around the country changed to show a truck on an overpass. Ahead of it, the street had been destroyed.
Kevin and Lana were sitting on the couch, with Lana on Kevin's left. Kevin was hugging Lana.
"This was the first earthquake I've ever been through." Lana said. "I was kinda scared." She smiled. "But you were with me."
Kevin smiled back at her and kissed her on her right cheek.
Ned walked over and sat to Kevin's right. "Hey, you two all right?"
Kevin smiled and nodded. "We're okay, dad. You?"
Ned nodded. "Pretty good. I admit I wasn't expecting this to happen."
Kevin and Lana couldn't help laughing.
ABC News World Headquarters
Forrest Sawyer was sitting at the desk. "For how many years have we been hearing about the Big One that people feared was going to come to Los Angeles? That big earthquake that was going to cause so many problems. For how many years have we been hearing about the danger of the San Andreas Fault? One of the ironies of this day is that this earthquake was triggered by neither one of those. In fact, it was caused by a fault that, until today, nobody had even heard of. It is now called 'the new thrust fault'."
At this point, camera footage was shown of the destruction caused by the earthquake, including fire.
Sawyer continued: "The powerful earthquake that hit Southern California today is part of an ongoing movement of the Earth's crust that scientists say will slide Los Angeles north to where San Francisco is located over the next fifty-million years."
Various maps and diagrams were shown.
"The epicenter of the quake struck at 4:30 in the morning on a previously unknown fault located twenty miles northwest of downtown LA. That fault is part of the San Andreas Fault System, which runs from the Gulf of California to Mendecino. This new fault, which has not yet been given an official name, is one fissure off of the main fault line. The crust of the Earth is fractured in many places. Here the San Andreas Fault looks like a scar in the Earth. Rocks on either side of the fracture have shifted so that the Earth's crust no longer matches up. What happens is that one side of the fissure thrusts up over the other, building pressure. Eventually the pressure becomes too great, and the rocks rupture. That rupture creates an earthquake. The soundwaves traveling through the Earth are seismic tremors, which scientists measure."
A seismograph was shown.
"Today's quake registered 6.6 on the Richter scale. Each number on the scale signifies a force ten times more powerful than the previous number. This earthquake could have been much worse."
A list came up displaying data on various earthquakes.
"Here's a list of the most disasterous this century. The Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 measured an 8.3. The 1989 San Francisco quake was a 7, which is still four times more powerful than the one today."
The camera footage ended.
"Perhaps we can put this in a little better perspective. With us is Waverly Person, who is with the National Earthquake Center in Golden, Colorado, and who has been following this all through the day. Mr. Person, give - give us just a sense of it. We - we say a 6.6 on the Richter scale not nearly as bad as other earthquakes we have seen that have been called 'major earthquakes', but where does this sit in that hierarchy of quakes that you follow?"
National Earthquake Center
Waverly Person was standing in a room. He has been monitoring the earthquake on a seismograph.
"Uh, this is a strong earthquake, magnitude 6.6, and what one has to, uh, realize that this earthquake occurred in a heavily-populated area. It was a shallow earthquake, and that's the reason for the damage, uh, that we have been experiencin' in that area is because of bein' in a heavily-populated area, and this is why we have the death toll that we have and the damage that we have is because it's right in a heavy-populated area."
"I - I see behind you what looks to be a - a sort of reel with some - some ink that is on it - "
Person turned to face the machine and pointed at it using his pen. "Yeah, this is, uh, the - this is the seismograph. The station is very close to the epicenter. If you note now, you can see the pen going. This is one of the aftershocks, uh, probably in the magnitude three and a half range." He stopped with the pen. "The last aftershock that we had at 4:43 was a magnitude 5.1, which has been 'bout the fourth one that we have had that has been in the magnitude 5 range." He pointed again. "This one right here, if you note, is going now. It could be approachin' a magnitude 4."
"Can we expect that these aftershocks will now diminish all the way through the next 72 hours?" Sawyer asked.
"The longer we go, they will diminish if they follow the same pattern that we've had a number of years, and this is what we expectin'. Uh, we are hoping that the, uh, larger, uh, aftershocks have occurred, and, within the next 24 to 48 hours, we hope they will subside considerably. But the aftershocks themselves could last several months, but they would be very small."
ABC News World Headquarters
"Waverly Person at the National Earthquake Center in Golden, Colorado. Thank you, sir, for putting that in perspective for us."
Live camera footage appeared on the screen, taken by KABC. It had a lot of static.
"Certainly, as we look through the city now, the lights beginning to twinkle, this is the area that does have some electricity. We've got a lot of homes that do not have electricity all through the area, and they're going to be without it for a long time. This picture is breaking up because of some of the problems of transmission that we have to face."
The camera footage stopped.
"We've got the science down now. This is what happened, but the bottom line is we have to learn how to deal with these earthquakes if we're going to live in the area where they take place. More and more buildings, more and more roads, are designed to be earthquake-proof, just as we mentioned the highways were designed to deal with earthquakes. Does that mean that they're failsafe? Obviously not, and the Los Angeles quake is proof of that. Ken Kashiwahara reports from San Francisco, which is, as you know, another California city that's seen its share of these quakes."
Prerecorded camera footage was shown from San Francisco in October of 1989, with a narrative voice-over. "San Fraciscans remember 1989 and the last major earthquake to hit a metropolitan area. It registered 7.1 on the Richter scale and, like Los Angeles, destroyed homes and businesses and freeways. Total damage: nearly six-billion dollars. 63 people were killed, many when the Cyprus Freeway collapsed in Oakland. That freeway still has not been replaced, and other freeways are still being repaired."
The camera switched to Ken Kashiwahara.
"Four years ago, officials here in the San Francisco area didn't learn anything they didn't already know. Structures and highways that were built or rebuilt to earthquake standards survived. Those that had not been strengthened, for lack of political will or money, did not. There were few surprises."
Now footage was shown of Los Angeles in the aftermath of today's earthquake, with a narrative voiceover.
"So, in Los Angeles, what withstood today's earthquake, and what didn't, in this place that often looked more like a war zone than a city? Buildings like this parking garage just collapsed. Low buildings, department stores, garages, and part of a hospital are least able to withstand a quake when those buildings are brittle and made of brick or masonry. In the suburb of Northridge, a corner of Bullock's Department Store was reduced to a pile of concrete. Prefab buildings with weak connections don't do well in a strong quake with an epicenter so close by. The vast majority of buildings were not damaged. There was less damage to taller buildings. In earthquakes, taller buildings with steel frames built to earthquake codes tend to sway when the ground shakes, but not collapse. But this was a surprise - an apartment building not only built to earthquake standards, but built on rollers to sway during a quake, suffered major structural damage. Paul Johnston is a structural engineer."
The camera switched to Paul Johnston, who was sitting in front of some monitors.
"...and the system of rollers that allows the ground to move separate from the structure, which should result in good p-good performance of the structure. These types of isolation systems are fairly new in, uh, in actual practice. They've been designing them for some years, but they haven't had that much experience yet. Uh, - "
"So, what does this tell you?"
"What that tells me is that, uh, we - we are gonna learn from the - from that experience."
The camera switched to footage of freeways, with a narrative voiceover.
"As for the maze of freeways that make up LA's skyline, there were major collapses, especially on the overpasses with long distances between supporting columns. Experts say highways can be retrofitted, but to do an entire city like Los Angeles is enormously expensive. And even that is no guarantee that overpasses will hold up in a strong earthquake. Highway I-5 was so close to the epicenter, experts say, the damage may have been unavoidable. But, farther away on the Santa Monica Freeway, the damage may have had a different cause. Bridge abutments like this one are often shaken as the soil underneath shifts. The weaker the soil, the worse the danger. Still, while twisted wreckage now replaces much of the freeways, other highways and overpasses were not damaged."
The camera switched to some diagrams.
"And underground there are dangers. Water mains and gas lines often run next to each other. When an earthquake ruptures one, it can lead to an explosion of water, followed by gas fires that roar through the city all day."
This was illustrated by showing fire in a street.
"Experts say it could've been worse. If the quake had been stronger, more gas lines could have ruptured. The lesson of these last two quakes in San Francisco and Los Angeles: Can a city ever really be earthquake-proof? Los Angeles is upgrading its older structures, but that takes time and money. In this state, where 80 percent of the people live near an active fault line, experts say each earthquake reveals how much more needs to be learned."
The camera switched back to Johnston.
"Most of the damage that occurred in Oakland or San Francisco is some...fifty miles or so away. Uh, here, we're in the San Fernando Valley, and we already have a heavily-built-up area. And so, just the - the much greater population of - of buildings is going to result in what seems to be a lot more damage."
The camera switched back to footage, with a narrative voiceover.
"As the experience in San Francisco has shown, Los Angeles residents can look forward to weeks and months of disruption and inconvenience as they try to get to work, as they go about their daily lives. Freeways and buildings will have to be repaired and retrofitted to earthquake standards. The cost will be enormous, and it will take years to complete."
The footage ended with the same truck on the overpass, then the camera switched back to Forrest Sawyer in the studio.
"Ah, the cost. There's a very big problem. We should also point out that many of the buildings damaged in today's quake in Los Angeles are either under-insured, or they are not covered by insurance at all. President Clinton's signing of a declaration today assures that federal tax dollars, and a lot of them, will be pouring into the region to, uh, offer assistance, and State Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, up in Sacramento, said today that law makers there should consider raising the state sales tax a quarter-percent to deal with damage caused by the Northridge Earthquake. It means that United States taxpayers and California taxpayers will be paying for this damage for a long time to come."
The power was still out in the house, and it was dark.
Cheryl had lit some candles and placed them on the coffee table.
Everyone had decided to gather in the living room, since none of them really wanted to be alone.
Currently, Stacey was roasting a marshmallow over a candle flame.
"How long do you think the power is gonna be out?" Rick asked.
"I don't know, Rick." Ned said. "We'll just have to rely on candles until it's back on."
"I wonder how many people died today," Lana said sadly, "and how many have lost their homes."
Kevin put his right arm around her. "Let's hope it wasn't a lot."
"Look, um,...we're gonna stay here until Wednesday." Mike said. "We can help out around town."
"Thanks, Mike." Cheryl said. "This city's gonna need all the help it can get."
New material copyright © 1998, 1999 by Mark Moore
Material novelized from day one copyright © 1994 by ABC News