Robert Lee and his household awoke to the partitions of his residence rocking and rattling on the morning of Feb. 9, 1971.

A seismic jolt, the worst since 1893 to hit the area, obtained everybody’s consideration and so they bolted from their beds — together with his two younger sons.

Related: 1971 Sylmar temblor sparked damage, death – and changed how we feel about, prepare for quakes


“They each got here operating in there and mentioned,” Lee recalled, “‘Try this once more, daddy! Try this once more!’”

This was not baby’s play, and the younger Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy knew it.

Photos: 50th anniversary of Sylmar-San Fernando earthquake, 64 killed

He’d rise to a broken residence in what was then often known as Sepulveda — now North Hills. Cracks within the ceiling. Cracks within the hallways. Cracks within the partially emptied swimming pool, its water stage diminished by the shaking.

Fortunately, the household was superb. It will want work, however the home was not in shambles. Elsewhere, the situation was extra grim, extra chaotic.

The Sylmar quake’s 6.6-magnitude morning rage flattened freeway overpasses, introduced down hospitals, toppled energy stations and sparked fires.

When it was all mentioned and achieved, the 1971 Sylmar-San Fernando earthquake claimed 64 lives. Greater than 2,500 have been injured.

That morning, as a first-responder, Lee checked on his household, after which rolled out to do his job.

With telephones lifeless in an period lengthy earlier than cell telephones, the deputy drove into his base of operations — the West Hollywood station, the place it wasn’t lengthy earlier than he would get staggering information from a sergeant.

Lee remembered it prefer it was yesterday, when he arrived:

A sergeant to Lee: “Don’t you reside in that space?”

Lee: “Sure.”

Sergeant: “They simply issued a warning for the dam.”

Proper. The dam.

That morning, Frank Borden’s dad, Stan, a battalion chief with the Los Angeles Metropolis Fireplace Division, was surveying the injury to Van Norman Dam, the construction simply northwest of the city of San Fernando. It saved about 3.6 billion gallons of consuming water.

Robert Lee, in his storage holding a replica of the then TheValley Information, was a deputy sheriff on the time of the Sylmar-San Fernando Earthquake. He and his household awakened at that morning 50 years in the past to shaking.  That morning he discovered his residence cracked and affected by extreme injury. Then, his household was evacuated as a result of Van Norman dam, only a few miles north, was unstable and will break. He and his household needed to evacuate. (Picture by Dean Musgrove, Los Angeles Every day Information/SCNG)

“When he obtained there, he reported again that the dam was close to collapsing,” Borden mentioned.

The prospect was horrifying for Lee and the 1000’s who lived and labored within the path of a possible dam break.

The highest 30 toes of the dam’s edifice had crumbled. Because the aftershocks crumbled extra earth, the water desk inched perilously upward, nearing the highest of the remaining construction. If it broke, scientists would later conclude, it might have killed between 70,000 and 120,000 individuals.

A information helicopter flies over a broken part of the Van Norman Reservoir. A whole bunch of residents beneath the dam have been evacuated. (Every day Information File Picture)

Battalion Chief Stan Borden’s message prompted a full-on evacuation of greater than 80,000 individuals within the space beneath the dam — the likes of which the area had by no means seen.

The evacuation coated not simply Lee’s quick neighborhood, however 10 sq. miles alongside the San Diego Freeway.

Lee was driving again over the hill, heading towards what was a swiftly worsening catastrophe zone. And his residence and household stood within the path of the dam.

Over his police radio the order got here: Speedy evacuations. “The Van Norman Dam is suspect.”

“I knew that if it broke, we’d get water,” Lee mentioned. “How a lot we didn’t know.”

In the meantime, Frank Borden, himself a captain on the LAFD’s Fireplace Prevention Bureau, was on his approach from his South Bay residence to the San Fernando Valley with a mission.

The firefighting items of Borden’s division have been assigned a dramatic rescue effort.

His aim: Examine these efforts. Be taught from them. Get all of it down on paper.

His mission took him to the Veterans Hospital facility, the place a cluster of buildings had collapsed, killing almost 50 individuals, and to Olive View Hospital in Sylmar, the place a six-story, newly opened psychiatric ward crumbled, killing three extra.

Former LA Metropolis Firefighter, Frank Borden. (Picture courtesy Frank Borden)

Amid the beautiful deaths across the area, many lives have been saved by quick-acting rescuers.

Already with a eager eye towards catastrophe preparedness, Borden took observe of the ingenuity of these efforts, regardless of the low-tech tools out there on the time.

“I noticed individuals alive being rescued,” he mentioned. “You checked out these buildings and you’ll suppose no person was going to outlive in there.”

However as a result of roofs on the VA had come down virtually flat, rescuers have been capable of come up with constructing diagrams and schematics to seek out out what sections of the room victims may be in.

“They made holes within the roof in these sections, and appeared down in there…That’s the place they might pull individuals out by the roof,” he mentioned. “That was embedded in my thoughts.”

It was a formative second for a younger Borden, who would go on to ascertain the division’s Neighborhood Emergency Response Staff program (CERT) and lift the profile of the division’s city search and rescue efforts.

Borden would proceed to check disasters, together with main earthquakes from Mexico to Northridge, from Whittier to Japan, all of the whereas taking in information on how communities come collectively to forge rescue efforts.

Sylmar was a wake-up name for individuals all over the place, mentioned Borden, now director of operations for the LAFD Historic Society.

The 1971 quake was the primary robust jolt to to hit the Valley because the 1893 Pico Canyon quake. That shaker had an epicenter a number of miles west of Sylmar.

“Folks weren’t actually ready till Sylmar,” Borden mentioned. “As soon as that occurred although, individuals began saying, ‘hey, this will occur once more.’”

Structural engineers sought higher methods to strengthen new constructions. The Fireplace Division beefed up group preparedness efforts. And positive sufficient, in comparatively brief geological time, the Southern California floor shook once more in a serious approach in 1994, when the Northridge Earthquake struck.

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