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  • Memorial set to honor victims of Sylmar quake

    first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESanta Anita opens winter meet Saturday with loaded card160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Nurse Betty Van Decar had just signed off on “a quiet night” at San Fernando Valley Veterans Hospital when her world collapsed in a pile of twisted rubble. The Sylmar Earthquake struck at dawn. The time, frozen onto clocks across the San Fernando Valley, was 6:01 a.m. The date: Feb. 9, 1971. That’s when Van Decar witnessed Ward 5 and its inhabitants vanish into a cold dark morning. “It buckled down, caved in, the whole building. There was an awful sound – you could hear the ground rumbling,” recalled Van Decar, 83, of Granada Hills. “I thought: They’re not going to make it.” Many didn’t. When the dust cleared on what scientists call the San Fernando Earthquake, 58 people were dead – including 49 at the Veterans Adminstration complex – and 2,000 more were injured. Thousands across the Southland awoke to topsy-turvy homes and businesses and more than $500 million in property damage. The Sylmar Earthquake will be remembered today, its 35th anniversary, at memorials and scientific round tables as the 6.5-magnitude temblor that triggered a slough of new safety standards for hospitals, buildings, dams, freeways and land-use planning statewide. “It was a milestone earthquake,” said Thomas Jordan, director of the Southern California Earthquake Center and a professor at USC. “\ led to significant actions …to deal with the earthquake problem.” Jordan, the first person to arrive at the Caltech seismic lab after the quake, will address the California Seismic Safety Commission in Los Angeles today on lessons learned since the Sylmar quake. At the VA, two main buildings at the circa-1926 hospital collapsed. At Olive View, the psychiatric ward crumbled as day-room towers flanking the the newly built hospital peeled away. Pacoima Dam experienced a record 1-gravity jolt. And Van Norman Reservoir, which threatened to burst, caused the evacuation of tens of thousands of people. Residents were forced to endure without water, gas and power for weeks as the Salvation Army doled out trucks of hot food. “We had camping gear, with canteens and stoves, for five weeks,” said John Brooks, 75, of Sylmar. Fred Iversen of Valencia, a former San Fernando police officer, had thought the nation was under nuclear attack as he sat in his patrol car beneath a crumbling church. “Bricks were bouncing off the police car and the sidewalk like popcorn – I actually thought it was the end of the world, that the Russians had hit us.” Then he saw a VA nurse calling to him for help. He saw a mother cradling a small boy. “Out of the shadows a woman emerged with what looked like a rag doll,” said Iversen, 59. “She said, `Help, my baby. Help, my baby!’ “He was about 5. I could tell he was dead.” Iversen recalled the earthquake from the center of Veterans Park, an idyllic glade of shorn grass, towering pines and mature palms whose rock walls appear to be the only trace of the VA hospital. To honor the dead, Iversen has organized an informal service for 10 a.m. today in the center of the park. “They were all brave people,” said Mary Gilman, 78, of Sylmar, a former VA charge nurse who’d worked 20 years at the Sylmar hospital on the hill. “I’ve prayed for these people and their families all these years.” [email protected] (818) 713-3730last_img

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