Up to their ankles in rubble

Cathy Carpenter, 61, remembers waking up to massive shaking the morning of the Northridge earthquake. In her family’s home in Tarzana, almost all of the kitchen cabinets were flung off the walls, and the aftershock blew out the windows and broke the ceiling beams that supported the house’s second story.

“Our house was kind of like a movie set where the front of the house was pretty fine, but the entire back half had really been destroyed,” she said. “We were in rubble almost up to our ankles in most of the house. It was awful and very scary.”

The family stayed in their house for a few weeks, but finally moved out when they realized that the second story would shake when the front door was slammed.

However, the real nightmare had only begun as Carpenter’s family had to rent a home for almost a year after the earthquake. Because demand was so high, they struggled to find contractors and replace broken household items.

“When every house is damaged, it’s not so easy to get contractors or sinks or plumbing — everything was on back order,” she said. “So that was very hard on everybody, hard on our kids.”

They only received $5,000 for property damage from FEMA, but because they had earthquake insurance, their private insurance company ultimately paid them the house’s full value of $300,000.

Carpenter recalled that neighbors “really took care of each other” and that a newly married couple hosted a big block party in the days after the earthquake.

“Everyone brought out all the food they had in their refrigerators, because it would all go bad,” she said. “And we just sat out there and commiserated because of how awful it was.”

The family house, which they still live in, is now reconstructed, “like a fortress,” she said. Every wall is built with structural reinforcements, and the furniture is bolted to the walls.

However, the memory of the tremors is hard to forget.

“Everywhere I went, when I felt shaking I would be transported back to that morning,” she said. “The shaking was so violent and it lasted a very long time.”