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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Quake Victims Rebuild, Look to State for Help

LOS ANGELES -- Earthquake victims, hoping to rebuild their shattered lives, were expected to flood federal disaster aid centers set to open in devastated areas Thursday.


The federal government's relief coordinating body, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, planned to open 11 centers offering one-stop emergency assistance for low-interest loans, emergency housing, or counseling.


President Bill Clinton, who visited damaged areas Wednesday, pledged to stand by residents in their time of need. "We have a national responsibility and we will be in it for the long run," he said.


The death toll from Monday's pre-dawn tremor that measured 6.6 on the open-ended Richter scale stood at 46, with 4,800 people injured and 20,000 homeless. Thousands of homes were still without water or electricity.


Grocery stores in neighborhoods devastated by the upheaval remained shuttered, with canned goods and other food strewn over floors, while armed guards, enlisted to prevent looting, stood watch at boarded-up shopping malls.


Residents who were either left homeless or too frightened to enter their houses, spent a third night in makeshift "tent cities" that sprung up in parks and abandoned fields.


Among the population's Hollywood celebrities suffering from quake effects were Elizabeth Taylor, Carroll O'Connor and Jerry Van Dyke who sustained damage to homes and businesses.


Officials in cities surrounding areas that suffered the most damage expressed concern their communities would be shortchanged when aid was dispensed.


But FEMA, hoping to shed its image as bumbling bureaucracy, promised an efficient and speedy response.


In 1992, the agency was criticized for being sluggish in coming to the aid of victims when Hurricane Andrew struck south Florida.


Still, angry quake victims complained they could not get through to an emergency aid hot line set up by FEMA. One FEMA representative said telephone lines were jammed because counselors talked to victims for a long time in hopes of sorting out their immediate problems.


Governor Pete Wilson, in a letter to the president, estimated that losses could range from $15 billion to $30 billion, putting the Northridge earthquake on a par with Hurricane Andrew, the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.


Commuters' nerves were frayed by lengthy detours after large stretches of 11 major roadways were closed to traffic by the quake. A 90-minute commute took up to six hours.


Drivers will have time to get used to it, however, as repairs were expected to take up to 18 months.


Those who turned to public transportation on Wednesday also faced delays, as debris on railroad tracks forced slowdowns of commuter trains.


Salvador Pena, a Salvadoran-born maintenance worker trapped for eight hours beneath a collapsed parking garage until firefighters rescued him, said he had expected to die.


"But then I thought of my family who needed me and the people I provide for. So I kept struggling," he said two days after his televised rescue. Millions had watched firefighters during their risky effort to extricate him from the shaky structure.