California Earthquake Damages Chapels, Members’ Homes

    “California Earthquake Damages Chapels, Members’ Homes,” Ensign, Mar. 1994, 74–75

    California Earthquake Damages Chapels, Members’ Homes

    Within hours of being jolted awake by a January 17 earthquake measuring 6.6 on the Richter scale, Church members and missionaries in the northern Los Angeles area were out on the streets offering assistance to those in need and helping to identify members whose homes had been damaged or destroyed in the destruction.

    Local leaders immediately began accounting for the members within their Church units. Missionaries from the three affected missions (Ventura, Arcadia, and Los Angeles) assisted in those efforts, and within hours, reports began to trickle in.

    “Church leaders were immediately assessing the status of buildings and members,” reported Keith Atkinson, public affairs director for California. “The procedures outlined by our leaders work so very well when they’re employed, things really begin to come together.

    “The members have been fantastic. People are pulling together marvelously well. I accompanied one group of missionaries, and these young people know no intimidation. There were people camped everywhere—medians, parking lots, street corners. These young missionaries went from group to group asking if anyone needed any help and inquiring if anyone in the group was LDS.”

    Generators, food, water, portable toilets, tents, and sleeping bags from the bishops’ storehouses in Colton, California, and Los Angeles were sent to meetinghouses where those left homeless were gathering. Local Church leaders, whose efforts were coordinated by regional representative Tad R. Callister, also reported that members from all over the state were flooding the area with offers of assistance and help. “The morning after the quake, members from the North Hollywood stake cooked breakfast for those who slept at the Van Nuys stake center,” one member noted. “And other members were bringing in diapers, food, supplies, and over-the-counter medication for those in need. And they aren’t just bringing those things to the members; they are taking them to the Red Cross and other emergency agencies.”

    In addition, approximately sixty missionaries and members with foreign language experience were providing translation services for the city and emergency organizations.

    As a result of the earthquake that struck at 4:31 A.M., one member dependent on life support equipment died when the power failed following the quake, and another member’s husband was killed in an automobile accident in an area where traffic lights were not working. In all, more than fifty-four people lost their lives either during the quake or in quake-related fires or accidents.

    In addition to the loss of life, billions of dollars worth of damage to freeways, businesses, and homes was reported. Complete assessment of damage to Church property continues, but fifteen Church meetinghouses were reported damaged, with seven of those buildings not safe for use. Local Church leaders are arranging abbreviated meeting schedules to accommodate the needs of the affected wards and branches.

    Some windows in the Los Angeles Temple were broken, but the temple was open on Tuesday, January 18, the day after the quake.

    Approximately four hundred people, mostly Church members although others were welcomed, camped in a “tent city” on the grounds of the Los Angeles California Van Nuys Stake meetinghouse. Several other Church meetinghouse grounds also served as temporary housing for displaced persons. Estimates indicate that one to two thousand homes of Church members have been damaged, and at least fifteen of those homes were destroyed. However, that number is expected to rise dramatically as emergency inspectors and insurance adjusters complete their work.

    Following the quake, power and water supplies were cut off to thousands of people. Although power was restored to many areas within a day, water systems may take several months to completely repair. Repairs to damaged freeways and roads may take more than a year to complete.

    Above: Elder John H. Groberg of the Seventy, president of the North America West Area, visits with earthquake victims camped near a stake center. (Photo by Mary Kay Stout.) Inset: A missionary translates for one of the earthquake victims. (Photo courtesy of California Public Affairs Office.)