Mayfield Times

by: Malia Weiss, Journalist and Reporter

The Devastating Sylmar Earthquake of 1971

“I heard a tremendous booming sound and felt violent shaking. I was scared to death,” exclaimed eyewitness, and my father, Walt Weiss, as he recalls experiencing the destructive Sylmar Earthquake of 1971. It was February 9th, 1971, at 6:01 am when the Sylmar Earthquake struck the San Fernando fault zone. This was a magnitude 6.5 earthquake that resulted in major property damage and 65 lost lives. Though the most destruction occurred in Sylmar, even the city of Pasadena, which is 21 miles from the epicenter, experienced notable damage.


It was 6:01 in the morning, and seven-year-old Walt Weiss was sleeping soundly in bed when the Sylmar Earthquake hit. He said, “The first thing I did was pull the covers over my head, because I didn’t know what was happening and I was terrified.” Mr. Weiss then remembered running outside to the open street with his large family along with two other neighboring families. The earthquake lasted for 60 seconds, though it appeared to have lasted for at least ten minutes, according to Mr. Weiss.

Road damage as a result of the Sylmar Earthquake.

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The Sylmar Earthquake resulted in major damage to Mr. Weiss’ house and many buildings around the area. “Our chimney collapsed and many of my mother’s glass and ceramic art pieces were broken beyond repair,” Walt Weiss narrated. He also remembered book shelves toppling over and chandeliers shattering. Around the area, many large buildings and hospitals had collapsed or suffered severe damage. A large, newly built freeway overpass had also collapsed. Luckily, the quake hit early in the morning, or there could have been a greater loss of lives.

Earthquake Safety Tips

In case you are ever caught off guard during an earthquake and you don’t know what to do, here are some tips that Mr. Weiss and I have discussed. The most important tip is to have an earthquake plan with your family. This means to discuss with your family ahead of time about what to do during an earthquake (go under a table, doorway, etc.) and about where to regroup with them afterwards. It would also be a good idea to have an “emergency earthquake” kit in your home and car. This may include blankets, water, snacks, a first aid kit (in case anyone gets injured), and matches or a flashlight in case the power goes out. I would also advise children to have a pair of shoes and a flashlight near their bed so they can run outside quickly and safely.


Learn More about the Sylmar Earthquake