The Northridge Earthquake struck on January 17, 1994 at 4:30:55 a.m. Although considered “moderate”, with a moment magnitude of 6.7, it was the most costly quake in United States history – and the most damaging to strike the U.S. since the San Francisco quake of 1906.
The Guinness Book of World Records rates the earthquake at a 7.5. Damage occurred up to 52 miles away. Over 1,500 people were injured and 57 were killed. The epicenter was located at the end of Elkwood Street, just east of Baird Avenue, in the city of Reseda – less than one mile from Northridge Hospital Medical Center.
Some say it was a miracle that Northridge Hospital could be at the epicenter of the largest earthquake to hit Los Angeles in modern times – and still take care of patients.
Today, 21 years after one of the defining moments in the hospital’s history, the memories of those miracle workers – the physicians, nurses, staff and volunteers who worked tirelessly and courageously despite fear, aftershocks and personal loss – are still vivid, immediate, graphic, and personal.
“The staff was marvelous,” says Ron Rozanski, Senior Vice President of Operations, who has been at NHMC since 1976, “They just rolled up their sleeves and displayed the best teamwork in the history of the hospital.” It didn’t matter what their specific job title – switchboard operator, administrator, nurse or, in some cases, spouse of an employee – everyone pitched in to keep patients safe, care for victims and keep the hospital functioning to the best of its ability.
Among their significant accomplishments:
- Safely evacuating 21 newborn and premature babies from the hospital’s fifth floor Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) amid shattered glass, cracked flooring, damaged walls and exposed wiring, and transferring them to other facilities.
- Treating the first earthquake-related victims within six minutes of the temblor.
- Logging more than 100 injured Valley residents into the ER during the first two hours after the quake – and treating many more who were never logged in.
- Assembling an ER waiting area and triage unit in the parking lot outside of the Emergency Department/Room due to damage of interior facilities.
- Setting up a command center within 90 minutes of the quake.
- Carrying supplies, including bottled water, up several fl ights of stairs to patient care areas.
- Treating more than 1,700 men, women and children during the five days following the quake.
When the earthquake struck, the ER was nearly empty, but not for long. Soon, patients with lacerations, broken bones and/or sprains started arriving... as well as patients with chest pain and pregnant women having contractions – their symptoms caused by the acute stress of the quake. And, that was only the beginning.