Remembering the Whittier Narrows Earthquake

By Los Angeles Region CEO, Jarrett Barrios

Lead photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

Thirty years ago, on October 1, 1987, the Whittier Narrows Earthquake struck the San Gabriel Valley and rattled most of Southern California. Numerous homes and businesses were impacted, and roadways were damaged throughout much of Los Angeles and Orange County. According to the California Earthquake Authority, a total of eight deaths and numerous injuries were reported as a result of this natural disaster.  Unfortunately, the community and the people of Whittier were the most severely affected.

Within minutes of the quake, the Red Cross in Los Angeles opened the Emergency Operations Center. From there, relief activities were coordinated throughout the region for months. In all, 21 shelters were opened to provide a safe place, food and supplies for more than 10,000 residents. And, like all major disasters, the work of the Red Cross continued well after everyone went home in the form of client casework, and psychological and spiritual care. According to the Los Angeles Region archives, some shelters were even set-up in open fields due to the fear that being inside buildings during many of the substantial aftershocks would be catastrophic.

This past weekend, on September 30, with the help of our Long Beach/Rio Hondo Chapter and Community Ambassador and Red Cross volunteer, Chris Sanchez, an amazing Whittier Narrows Earthquake Exhibit opened at the Whittier Museum to help inform the public and commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the quake.

Visitors who attended the exhibit viewed interviews with Whittier officials, as well as residents who experienced not only the quake, but also the resiliency of the community and their tenacity during vast rebuilding efforts. Since opening day, I’ve proudly received positive feedback from attendees who enjoyed the historic photos, newspapers of the day, and the beautiful display of Red Cross artifacts perfectly preserved behind an impressive glass case.

I am thankful for our dedicated volunteers who have been working closely with the Whittier Museum. Because of them, we are better able to share the Red Cross story during the time of the Whittier Narrows Earthquake, as well as display Red Cross memorabilia that represent our decades long, and rich history within this community.

While remembering significant Red Cross achievements, like the response to the Whittier Narrows Earthquake, helps remind us all how fragile life can be in Los Angeles, it is also a stark reminder of the importance of being prepared.

In a few weeks, on October 19, millions of people worldwide will practice how to Drop, Cover, and Hold On during the Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drills. The Great ShakeOut, which began as the Great California ShakeOut in 2008, is an annual opportunity to learn how to stay safe during an earthquake.  Here at the Red Cross, we are encouraging everyone to get involved in this world-wide earthquake drill. Talk to your supervisor to participate at work. Discuss a family plan and practice at home. And, make sure your child’s school is also taking part in this global preparedness event.

To learn more about the Great ShakeOut, visit https://www.shakeout.org/home.html, and to find out more about the Earthquake Exhibit at the Whittier Museum, go to http://whittiermuseum.org/exhibits/earthquake-exhibit/ .

Jarrett Barrios is the Chief Executive Officer at the American Red Cross Los Angeles Region. But, above all, Jarrett Barrios is a humanitarian with more than 20 years of experience helping people in need throughout the United States and Cuba.

To learn more about Jarrett Barrios or the America Red Cross Los Angeles Region, visit RedCrossLA.org.

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