Northridge earthquake: 30 years after the day that shook Southern California

Christiane Cordero Image
Thursday, January 18, 2024
30 years after the Northridge quake, are we ready for the "Big One"?
The 6.7 magnitude Northridge earthquake killed 57 people, injured thousands and left behind billions of dollars in damage in 1994.

NORTHRIDGE, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Wednesday marks 30 years since the devastating 1994 Northridge earthquake that collapsed freeways, flattened buildings, killed dozens of people and caused billions of dollars in damage. But what were the lessons learned and are we ready for the "Big One?"

Hans Gutknecht documented history as his own house was leveled by the quake. Three decades later, he still remembers the sound of his roommate shortly after 4:30 a.m.

"Apparently I got knocked out. I jumped out of bed and just remember kind of being in the air and then waking up to him pounding on the door," said Gutknecht, a photojournalist for the L.A. Daily News.

He was living in Santa Clarita, early in his career as a photojournalist, when the quake hit.

Disoriented, stunned and likely concussed, Gutknecht got out of bed and picked up his camera. His first task: trying to find the story through unreliable cell phones and the urgency of chaos.

"At that point, for all I knew we were broke off and floating in the ocean, you know. I didn't know how bad it was at that point. I just knew that my refrigerator was in my living room," he said.

He quickly realized his personal challenges - the damaged home and blocked roads - were the story.

His photo of the 14 and 5 freeway interchange became synonymous with the earthquake itself.

Hans Gutknecht's photo of the 14 and 5 freeway interchange has become synonymous with the 1994 Northridge earthquake itself.

"It was just in rubble. There was a car buried underneath there and that I remember looking at and just going... 'this is really bad.'"

The 6.7 magnitude earthquake killed 57 people, injured thousands and left behind billions of dollars in damage. It took years to rebuild, but today the places once known for their devastation are standing tall, many reinforced with the lessons learned.

The simple lessons, for Gutknecht, have stuck around as well.

"I have canned food now that I keep and I have extra water that I keep... A gas shutoff valve. All that kinda stuff that when I was 26, I didn't have any of that stuff."