A magnitude 6.8 (Ms) earthquake centered under the community of Northridge in the San Fernando Valley shook the entire Los Angeles metropolitan area at 4:31 a.m. local time on Monday, January 17, 1994. Moderate damage to the built environment was widespread; severe damage included collapsed buildings and highway overpasses. A total of 58 deaths were attributed to the earthquake by the Los Angeles Coroner. About 1,500 people were admitted to hospitals with major injuries; another 16,000 or so were treated and released. Estimates of the number of people temporarily or permanently displaced because of damage to their houses or apartments ranged from 80,000 to 125,000.
A multi-agency team, organized under the auspices of the Interagency Committee on Seismic Safety in Construction and headed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, arrived at the earthquake site within days of the event to document the effects of the earthquake. The team focused on the effects to the built environment, with the goal of capturing perishable data and quickly identifying situations deserving in-depth study.
While most structural damage occurred in buildings and bridges of construction type and vintage known to be vulnerable to earthquake shaking, there were some unexpected failures. Notable among these were the collapses of relatively modern parking structures and a bridge that appeared to be adequate by today's standards.The report, 1994 Northridge Earthquake: Performance of Structures, Lifelines and Fire Protection Systems (NIST SP 862), includes a summary of the team's observations.
Northridge Earthquake, CA, January 17, 1994 -- Approximately 114,000 residential and commercial structures were damaged and 72 deaths were attributed to the earthquake. Damage costs were estimated at $25 billion. (Photo credit: FEMA News Photo, Andrea Booher)