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Parts of Buildings Collapse, State of Emergency Declared in Hard-Hit City

October 2, 1987

WHITTIER, Calif. (AP) _ Thursday’s major earthquake appeared to strike most violently in this city near the epicenter, tumbling building facades and forcing evacuation of the entire eight-square-block downtown business district.

Mayor Gene H. Chandler declared a state of emergency following the quake, which struck at 7:42 a.m. and measured 6.1 on the Richter scale.

″Damage to certain structures was extensive enough ... to warrant the evacuation of the residing tenants,″ the mayor said in a proclamation, which cited significant damage to several buildings in the area.

No major injuries were reported, but Marsha Andersen, a spokeswoman for Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital there, said 60 people were treated for various minor, quake-related injuries.

City personnel director J. Sonny Morkus said 30 buildings had been destroyed. All were downtown and most were businesses, he said.

″In residential areas, there are apartment buildings, senior housing facilities, hotels and some residential areas that were severely damaged,″ Morkus said.

A tour of the area revealed hundreds of homes were damaged in some manner, with windows broken and porches sagging.

Two emergency shelters were being set up for residents whose homes were damaged, Morkus said, adding that by midafternoon, about 100 people had asked for lodging.

Brick facades of buildings along the main thoroughfares tumbled into the sidewalks and streets, said police officer Mike Willis. Three cars were crushed by bricks falling from one side of The Emporium, a store on Philadelphia Street.

The force of the quake felled the top level of a three-story parking structure at the Whittier Quad Shopping Center at Painter Avenue and Cullen Street, said Police Chief Charles Plummer.

″It fell right down to the second floor,″ he said. ″That was by far the worst structure damage we’ve had.″

Most of the damaged buildings date back to between 1900 and 1920, officials said, and were made chiefly of unreinforced brick and masonry.

Street lamps shattered on their poles and chimneys on nearby homes collapsed onto front lawns when the quake hit. Broken gas and water lines were common.

The 100-year-old city, about 15 southeast of downtown Los Angeles and five miles from the quake’s epicenter, appeared harder hit by the temblor than other municipalities in the area.

The quake struck just 15 minutes before 500 children would have been inside St. Mary’s Assumption Grammar School, where bricks cascaded into a schoolyard walkway and a two-story classroom and library building dating to 1923 sustained apparently irreparable damage.

Enormous cracks ran down the side of the building and one wall leaned precariously over a walkway. About 75 children were already at the school, but they remembered their earthquake drills and ran to the open schoolyard, said the principal, Sister Patricia Anne Carolan.

″There were a lot of miracles that happened here,″ said the Rev. Tony Ross. He and about eight other priests were inside the rectory chapel when the quake struck. They dashed out the door just as the temblor heaved a heavy altar off its column-like legs.

The altar’s crucifix was bent and the tabernacle was smashed.

The main church appeared unscathed except for ominous looking cracks halfway up the slightly skewed bell tower. In the choir loft, the organ pipes and some interior paneling also took a tumble.

A sign scrawled on the church doors said masses were canceled until further notice.

Ross said he presumed the old school building was a total loss.

″We are so fortunate that no one was killed,″ Ross said.

Two blocks down the street, the quake ravaged merchandise at Morrissey’s religious artifacts shop, where boxes of smashed Jesus and Mary statues sat forlornly on the sidewalk.

Owner Ruth Olson said she lost several hundred statues, all uninsured, worth thousands of dollars.

″It was funny, we didn’t lose any crucifixes. They all stayed on the wall.″

Her 18-year-old son, Chris, said he was at work at an air conditioning business across the street from Whittier Narrows Recreation Area, the quake’s epicenter.

″All of a sudden, all the light fixtures popped open ... I dashed underneath a table and the lights went out,″ the son said.

The city was home to former President Richard M. Nixon, who earned his bachelor’s degree from Whittier College in 1934 and practiced law in the city from 1937 to 1942.

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