Normalcy and Disaster Coexist In Los Angeles After the Quake

Residents ponder how to get to work and how to pay for the damage

By , Staff writers of The Christian Science Monitor

THIS city has taken on the surreal visage of an area rebounding from calamity.

Along Ventura Boulevard at dusk, a jogger lazily lopes down the street as if there had been no disruption of life's normal routine. Behind him, a weakened building suddenly erupts in flames in a reminder that things are far from normal here.

In one section of the city, shoppers stroll through stores. In another, Raimund Hofmeister picks through what is left of his bakery in the San Fernando Valley. Dough sits untouched on the counter the way he left it at 4:31 a.m. on Monday when the quake hit. Estimate of the damage to his business: $500,000.

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Tourists queue up to take the tour at Universal Studios, while a few miles away in a park in San Fernando, people wait in line for an hour just to get fresh water.

Los Angeles today is a city where normalcy exists alongside a terrier nervousness, where pockets of ``Blade Runner'' devastation coincide with a beach-culture easiness and attempt to reestablish routine. (E-mail lifelines, Page 2. Living in the dark, Page 20.)

Amid these crosscurrents, residents most affected by the earthquake that struck the San Fernando Valley are picking up their lives - and reassessing their futures:

* Allen and Debbie Dauterman say it might finally be time to leave. They were already tired of the crime and congestion in Los Angeles. The earthquake, which caused about $1,000 damage to their Sherman Oaks home and left the garage looking like a ``tossed salad'' may have been the final insult. ``It focuses you on what is really important in your life,'' says Ms. Dauterman, sitting at her kitchen table. ``You can hang onto your house and make some money or take a loss and move to where this thing isn't looming over your life.''

* David and Luann Beckett agree that the temblor was bad - ``if this is normal, we don't want to stay,'' Mr. Beckett says. But they like Los Angeles. The couple moved to the San Fernando Valley in June from New York, where they were robbed twice and shot at once. They feel safer here, if only the terra would stay firm.

Other Angelenos aren't going through such a profound reexamination. They are just trying to reestablish a daily rhythm. This has been difficult with the area's wounded web of freeways. Eleven thoroughfares were damaged in the quake that claimed some three dozen lives.

To circumvent the problems, commuters are threading their way through surface streets, with limited success. Police say the journey into downtown Los Angeles from the Antelope Valley, normally a 90-minute commute, could take as long as six hours.

Tardy truck deliveries and shortened work days are just two ways the quake could impact the region's $220-billion economy. Unfortunately, the temblor hit at a time when Los Angeles was showing signs, ever so faintly, of a turnaround. Now the area has to cope with the results of a disaster expected to cost far more than the $7 billion 1989 San Francisco quake, making it the most expensive temblor in US history.

``This is going to put the economy on hold a few weeks as people sort things out,'' economist Jack Kyser says.There will be some economic benefits. The cleanup and recovery will create a plethora of construction jobs - by one estimate, 10,000 in the next month. Furniture and other consumer purchases should rise as residents replace damaged goods.

The buying spree may not be immediate, though. The millions of dollars in federal and state aid expected to be funneled into the area will take time to reach people, and the other main source of assistance, earthquake insurance, won't be of much help. Only 40 percent of area residents carry the coverage, largely because of its high cost.

Stewart Barney of Sherman Oaks figures his house sustained $10,000 worth of damage. With a 10 percent deductible on his $125,000 policy, he will probably pay for the repairs himself.

To help bankroll the recovery, some local politicians are calling for a temporary hike in the state sales tax. The suggestion sets up a clash between the empathy that always follows such a disaster and ingrained opposition to tax hikes.

Churches and other groups have donated food and clothing to help the several thousand residents who have been sleeping in parks in the San Fernando Valley, either because their homes were destroyed or they are too afraid to go back. Throughout the region, neighbors are helping neighbors.

The sense of community will have to continue if this city that has endured so much in recent years, from riots to fires, is to surmount this challenge. As Mayor Richard Riordan put it: ``The days ahead will also be tough for us. Let's all stick together.''

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