Shake, Rattle, and Roll - What It's Like in an Earthquake

Nail technicians struggle to survive after California's Northridge earthquake devastates their business.

January 17th was just another Monday for Peggy Adams, a nail technician at Kimary’s Nail Boutique in Northridge, Calif. She was walking to her car to go to gym when an earthquake struck at 4:31 that morning.

“It felt like the ground was being jack hammered from the inside of the earth,” says Adams, who was thrown to the ground by the jolt:  “I felt like I was being knocked off the planet. I heard people screaming and things breaking. I could see the ground moving. There was stucco falling on my head.”

Adams doesn’t remember the next few minutes. But she does recall later being in the courtyard of her condominium complex with her neighbors who were wrapped up in blankets and walking barefoot. Adams and her neighbors spent the next few hours gathering shoes and flashlights and watching their city light up in flames.

“We could see fires everywhere, “Adams says. “There was a trailer park that hap a number of fires. We could even see an explosion.” Adams did the only thing she could sit and wait for daylight.

Cleaning up the mess was another story. Adams not only had her condo, which had slipped off its foundation, to worry about, she had the salon to think of. The National Guard would not allow anyone to enter the earthquake ravaged shopping center where the salon was located to check for damage until four days after the quake.

Polish fell from the racks and splattered onto the manicure tables and carpet. The jolt of the earthquake emptied shelves and cabinets in the store room.

Kimary’s Nail Boutique was a comfortable, cozy salon before the Northbridge earthquake left in shambles. The ceiling collapsed after the earthquake, covering the salon with debris.

“The salon was an ugly mess,” she recalls. “The ceiling was down. There was nail polish everywhere and broken bottles were stuck to the floor. Furniture had moved and fallen.”

Adams spent the Thursday after the quake helping salon owner Kim Dellibovi clean up and spent Friday at the salon calling clients. Meanwhile, the media and onlookers passed by, peeking inside to see the damage.

“There were people all over the place walking around with camcorders and cameras to get pictures,” Adams says. “It was disgusting. One man who didn’t even acknowledge me stuck his head in the door and said to someone he was with. “This p[lace isn’t bad; let’s keep looking.” Many of the onlookers were attracted to the salon because of its location behind the demolished Northridge Meadows Apartment building, where 16 people lost their lives in the quake.

“It’s really disturbing when people come to you and ask if they can go through your building to get closer to where the people died,” says Debe Saravia-Bloomquist, another nail technician at Kimary’s Nail Boutique. “I had a client who died in the building next door. When it’s that close to you, it gets pretty devastating.”

<p>Polish fell from the racks and splattered onto the manicure tables and carpet. The jolt of the earthquake emptied shelves and cabinets in the store room.</p>

Seeing the salon that Saravia-Bloomquist cherished in shambles made matters only worse. “It looked like little kid had come in and finger painted all over the desk and chairs. Everything we needed to do our work was destroyed.”

Saravia-Bloomquist reminisces about how the upscale boutique once looked. “The wallpaper was pink and blue and the carpeting was custom made with flower sewn into it. The carpet matched our business cards,” she says “Kim’s dad custom made the polish racks, rails, and the seating are they were all done in oak. To walk in and see all of their hard work gone was horrible.


Business is by no means back to normal for the salon’s nine technicians. Some have started working at other salons. Most are trying desperately to salvage what is left of their clientele.

“Our clients are based in Northridge,” says Adams. “So many of them have lost their homes and have had to move out.” With clients’ lives hanging in balance, business has been sporadic.

“I have been confirming every appointment and having no-shows every day,” Adams explains. “Clients are distracted. Nails are just not a priority.”

Rebuilding the salon is another problem. When Dellibovi tried to get the funds to rebuild, she found herself snagged in a web of red tape.

“The day after the earthquake, I asked the owner of the shopping center what was going to happen with the salon,” says Dellibovi. “The owner said it was her responsibility to provide four walls and a roof and that anything inside was my responsibility.” Dellibovi argued that the structure was unsafe and hired an inspector to get a second opinion.

“The inspector sad the ceiling had to be redone before anyone could come in here,” she notes. Dellibovi and other tenants of the shopping center wrote a letter to the owner asking for a little compassion. Dellibovi, who still has not received an answer, says she hopes the owner’s “no” turns to “yes” in a matter of weeks.

Meanwhile, Dellibovi is seeking funds through the Federal Emergency Management Association (FFMA). Damage is estimated at tens of thousands of dollars, she says. Among the salon items lost were 600 bottles of polish, one $450 drill, $250 in implements, $600 in acrylic products, and $350 in other items.

It could take days if not weeks to get the money to redecorate, but without the ceiling fixed, Dellibovi notes, “We can’t get in to the salon.”

Nevertheless, Dellibovi’s keeping her chin up and planning for the future. “I’m picking out new carpet, linoleum, manicuring chairs, wallpaper, and furniture, and dad will do the oak molding again. He’s all excited.”

For Dellibovi, the opportunity to rebuild is a bittersweet one. “My shop was so special to me that I thought I would die if it were gone,” she says. “But seeing it gone doesn’t bother me as much as the thought of people getting hurt.”

In a spirit of optimism she concludes, “It was time for us to redecorate anyway.


Editor’s note: The devastation of the Northridge earthquake affected thousands of people in Southern California, including NAILS staff writer Felecia Ligon, who lives near the epicenter, she gives personal account of her experience throughout the week of the quake.

It was 4:03 in the morning when I woke, thinking, “Thank goodness, I have another hour before I have to get up to work!” Back to sleep I went. Suddenly I felt my bed shaking, as though someone were pushing it and trying to wake me up immediately I sat up like an explosion and felt a tremendous jolt. It was as though I were a doll living in a shoe box and someone took a bat and swung it against the box. I looked straight ahead in to the darkness of my room and saw what looked like an enormous ball falling from the ceiling, but I couldn’t make out what it was. Then I heard a crash. Something was very wrong. My bed was still shaking. The entire room was shaking….I just knew this was “The Big One.”

“Oh God,” I exclaimed, ditching the bed, the shaking wouldn’t stop first the jolt, then the rattling, and finally the waving motion. “This is it,” I thought. “We’re going to sail into the Pacific.” “Immediately I wondered how I would contact my family once California became an island. I sat helplessly, waiting for the shaking to stop.

After what felt like the longest minute of my life, the movement ceased. I reached for the phone to call my family back East, but the phone service and the power were shut off.

“Felecia!” my neighbor yelled through the front door, sounding disoriented and afraid. “Are you alright?” I stumbled to the door like a blind woman finding her way in the dark, not realizing that the furniture had toppled and everything that was neatly placed in the cabinets had fallen to the floor. To add to the confusion, when I opened the door to let my neighbor know I was unharmed, my house alarm, which sounds like 10 ambulance racing through the neighborhood, went off. Unable to turn it off in the dark, I let it run its course for five minutes.

I didn’t have a flashlight in the house, so I borrowed my neighbor’s to see the extent of the damage. Pots, pans, kitchen appliances, silverware, and food had fallen to the floor plates had broken and stemware had shattered; glass was everywhere. Books, vases, and memorabilia had fallen from the wall unit. The glass dining room table had collapsed; the armoire and my bike had fallen; the air conditioner was left hanging out of the wall; polish bottles and toiletries landed on the bathroom carpet; and clothes had been emptied out of the closet. It looked like a stage set of the movie Earthquake.

Unable to clean up in the dark, I immediately got dressed stood outside with neighbors, and waited for daylight. I gazed at the horizon and marveled at what I thought was the beautiful red glow of a sunrise. The sounds of sirens gave away the true source of mysterious glow as fire trucks and ambulances raced through the neighborhood. It was the embers of flames that had devoured a house.

As daylight approached, I hopped on my bike and road around the immediate area to find a phone to call my family. Instead I found destruction. Brick walls that had once closed homes in the area had collapse and covered the sidewalks with debris. The nearby shopping plaza looked like the aftermath of the Los Angeles riots. Glass windows had shattered, structures had fallen, and merchandise had been scattered throughout the stores, liquors stores reeked of alcohol that had escaped from broken bottles. A nearby bowling alley sustained more than $1 million damage and was temporarily put out of business. Most business were boarded up and closed. By 3:00 that afternoon, I managed to find a phone in the area that was working off and on and I called my family.

For the next two days I was without water, gas, and electricity. I dreaded each night, lying awake and riding out countless aftershocks alone. I held a flashlight next to me to break the darkness. With each temblor, I looked to my right to make sure the wall unit didn’t fall and crush me; to my let to see that the air conditioner didn’t fall completely out of the wall; and above me to make sure the ceiling fan don’t fall on top of me. I counted the minutes until the sun rose.

I didn’t know what the earthquake of the aftermath was worse. If the shaking didn’t kill me, it seemed the isolation would. The feeling of helpless nearly crippled me. With aftershocks coming at 2-30 minutes intervals, I was afraid of walking outside for fear of a live wire lamppost falling, a frantic driver causing an accident, or brick wall crumbling. On the other hand, staying at home was like being locked up in solitary confinement.

Three days after the earthquake, I broke the cycle of fear, braved the freeways, and went back to work. A week later, I volunteered to work at a disaster shelter where I met people who escaped with only their lives. As I sat and listened to countless stories of loss, I began to appreciate that I had my home, my belongings, and my life. Compared to other people, I was not a victim; I was a survivor.

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