We were living in Redondo Beach, about 30 miles south of the epicenter, when the Northridge Earthquake rattled the Los Angeles basin at 4:31 a.m. on Jan. 17, 1994. I remember the adrenaline surging through my system after being jolted from a deep sleep. Our two-story house felt as if it had been lifted from its moorings and slammed back to earth.

Our roofing tiles clattered like loose dominoes, car alarms sounded up and down the streets, picture frames fell from walls and glassware shaken from kitchen shelves shattered on the tile floor. For what seemed like an eternity, the house kept swaying. Then the electric power went off.

It was a frightening, helpless feeling, and there was devastation to match. The magnitude-6.7 quake killed 57 people and injured another 5,000. It pancaked a Northridge apartment building, ravaged neighborhood homes, ripped seams in highways and collapsed overpasses. The final tally was an estimated $20 billion in damages.

Gentle tremors are part of the California lifestyle -- we even joke about them with visitors from out of state. A full-blown teeth-rattler is a different beast, and it left an impression on my wife Faith and me.

Within days of the Northridge quake, we assembled earthquake kits -- for the car and home -- with first-aid supplies, blankets, flashlights, transistor radios, batteries and emergency tools. We secured a bookcase to the wall, bought a new fire extinguisher for the house and stocked up on bottled water and nonperishable foods.


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I thought about all that early Sunday morning, when the biggest quake I'd felt in 20 years -- a magnitude-6.0 in Napa County -- announced itself in the darkness and reminded us how vulnerable we are.

It dawned on me that the earthquake kit intended for the car was lying on a shelf somewhere in the garage -- I pulled it out of the trunk when I needed space -- and the emergency food rations we purchased long ago disappeared during our relocation to the Bay Area.

Later that day, I checked our fire extinguisher and discovered it was 13 years old. The only bottled water we had was is in small containers -- fine for hikes, not for a prolonged interruption in water service. And I could only guess that the transistor radio was in the garage. It seems to be where we put everything we no longer need.

Years without seismic events tend to dull your sense of urgency. Out of sight, out of mind. All the emergency measures we felt compelled to take in 1994 had become a distant memory. I was surprised to admit I'd forgotten the lesson learned 20 years ago when my home was tossed around and broken glass was scattered across the floor.

On Monday, I bought a new fire extinguisher. I found the radio and purchased some batteries. I'll be stocking up on water and food next. The earthquake kit is back in the trunk.

A lot of bad things happened Sunday morning. Fortunately, most of them can be repaired. If anything good came from the experience, it was a wake-up call about preparedness.

The California Office of Emergency Services says you should stock enough food and water for 72 hours. Learn how to turn off your natural gas line. Everyone in your family should know the best place to seek shelter -- under a sturdy desk or table -- when the house begins to shake.

The next one will come without warning. All we can do is be ready.

Contact Tom Barnidge at tbarnidge@bayareanewsgroup.com.