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Shake, Rattle & Roll:
Santa Clarita Valley's Earthquake History


Earthquakes have been rattling the Santa Clarita Valley ever since the first Europeans set foot here.

Spanish explorer Gaspar de Portola's party was rocked by a 6.0-magnitude temblor while camping out by the LaBrea Tar Pits on July 28, 1769. They felt a major aftershock their first day in the SCV on Aug. 8.

The third-largest quake on the North American continent that we know about happened just a few miles north of the SCV. On Jan. 9, 1857, at 8:13 a.m., a major continent-busting earthquake that may have registered off the Richter scale was centered in the Fort Tejon area. It knocked over just about all of the few buildings here in the SCV, including the original sub-mission San Francisco. Cows, horses and men fell over.

There was a split at Fort Tejon that was 10 feet in diameter. One mountain man in Frazier Park reported losing his mule into a yawning chasm when the earth split, and that he almost fell into the crevice himself from his bedroll. One Newhall woman was killed when her house collapsed on her.

That Fort Tejon quake expelled 5.5 times the energy of the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

A 5.75 temblor centered in Pico Canyon on May 19, 1893, caused an angry mob to march from Newhall to Mentryville. Locals blamed the drilling for oil in Pico as the cause of the quake, and some demanded they stop.

Back on March 16, 1933, the second-largest natural disaster in Southern California history struck in the form of a massive earthquake. There were 125 people initially reported killed from the quake, which was felt the hardest in the Long Beach area. The shaking was severe in Newhall but was confined to goods and dishes falling off shelves and a few cracks in foundations.

Signal editor A.B. Thatcher was in downtown Los Angeles during the 6.3 quake and reported that all eyes were constantly on the tops of the buildings for fear they would come down. Another local, Vinetta Sloan, recalled being in Long Beach when the quake hit. She said she was hopping from one foot to the other, trying to keep her balance and fearing that the Earth would open and swallow her up. She recalled driving home through mobs of crying, screaming, laughing people. Thousands of people ended up living in open spaces and parks.

Another effect of the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Compton earthquake was a school holiday for local kids going to San Fernando High. The school was closed for a week to check for quake damage.

They were still feeling aftershocks from the big Long Beach earthquake of 1933. The quake was even felt up here in Newhall. It sure scared the heck out of one visitor at the Newhall Hotel. James Donnelly, who resided at the resort, was taking a bath the night of the quake. He kept trying to climb out of the tub and kept getting knocked back down. "This is what I get for trying to take a bath on a Friday night," he told friends. Donnelly also confessed his big fear was that the side of the building would collapse and he'd be sitting there, stark naked, for if not the world to see, at least everyone in Newhall.

The 6.5 quake of Feb. 9, 1971, centered in Sylmar, rattled the Santa Clarita, causing $5.3 million in local damage to 1,540 of the valley's 15,000 permanent buildings. Mobile homes suffered the worst. About 70 percent of the SCV's 2,200 mobile homes were damaged.

One car, parked near Hart Park, was partially swallowed up by the earth. Signal editor Scott Newhall came up with chilling prose in his editorial: "The Earth for a moment played us false. We are suddenly a baby who has been dropped by its mother, and we resent it."

On the bright side, while the quake caused $1 billion in Southern California damage, it was just one-100th the strength of the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Care to guess who was hurt the most by the 1971 earthquake? Thatcher Glass. About a $3 million cleanup bill.

One aftermath of the Feb. 9 earthquake was flight. Several hundred residents put their homes up for sale, pulled their kids out of school and moved out of the SCV, citing fear of the moving Southern California earth.

Another byproduct of the quake was parking-lot sales. Nearly every business in town was setting up tables, trying to get rid of quake-damaged merchandise, some of it marked down 90 percent.

There was the huge 6.7 Northridge quake of Jan. 17, 1994, that many SCV residents still remember.

While it did millions in damage, it paled in comparison to both the Alaskan quake of 1964 and especially the Chilean planet-in-a-blender event of May 22, 1960. The Alaskan quake actually shifted the axis of the Earth by nearly 4 inches. But the Chilean quake, which registered an unbelievable 9.6, shifted the planet's axis by 6.5 feet.

A 9.6 quake is about the maximum the Earth can possibly sustain.


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