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Californians Pull Together To Rebuild After Quake

By Daniel B. Wood and Scott ArmstrongStaff writers of The Christian Science Monitor / January 19, 1994


SOME people vow to leave by week's end. Others, plucky and resilient, plan to rebuild their lives and homes. Joel Sarradet isn't sure what he'll do.

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Sitting on his front stoop here, the handyman and hair-salon owner wants to see what it will take to repair his home and business before deciding his future.

``I don't want to make any quick decisions,'' he says.

Mr. Sarradet is emblematic of many southern Californians.

Even as the region tries to pick itself up after a devastating earthquake, it is sifting through the doubt and debris for lessons for a state whose identity all too often seems entwined with disaster, natural and manmade.

From the 1992 riots to last October's fires to the temblor, the region is again being forced to overcome adversity when the economy is weak and faith in the California dream has been shaken. (Washington's response and relief efforts, Page 6.)

``There is going to be a lot of rethinking of California intellectually,'' says Kevin Starr, a California historian. ``Where do we place human settlements? What can we afford? This is another component of that rethinking.''

To its credit, the area's social fabric seems to be holding together. Residents of the San Fernando Valley - the area most devasted by the quake - helped each other in the early hours after the temblor and in the cleanup since.

There were heroic rescues from beneath collapsed buildings and freeways. Looting was held to a minimum. Residents shared batteries and battered emotions.

But major problems and questions remain for Valley residents and others heavily impacted by the quake. Not the least of them will be how well a city that more than any other is defined by the car will get along with major sections of its freeway grid closed, possibly for months.

Traffic problems

Segments of three heavily trafficked highways, and several others, were damaged in the Jan. 17 temblor. State and local transportation officials are establishing alternative commuting routes for drivers. But with sections of the Santa Monica Freeway (I-10) in the city, which carries close to 300,000 vehicles a day, and the Golden State Freeway (I-5) and Antelope Valley Freeway (Highway 14) in the San Fernando Valley closed, hundreds of thousands of commuters will be affected.

California Department of Transportation officials say some repairs will take well over a year. One main artery damaged in the 1989 San Francisco earthquake still isn't open.

While engineers are repairing overpasses and roadways, they also will be looking at why spans collapsed. Bill Iwan, professor of engineering at the California Institute of Technology and chairman of the state Seismic Safety Committee, says damage to roads and structures was disturbingly similar to that after the 1971 Sylmar quake, also in the San Fernando Valley, even though new earthquake standards have been put into effect and some bridges were retrofitted.

The damage could have been worse, though. Many of the more than a dozen bridges damaged Jan. 17 had not yet been reinforced under a $1 billion renovation program launched after the San Francisco quake. Some 300 of 900 highway structures targeted for reinforcement under the 1989 program have been modernized.