1971 San Fernando Earthquake


A combination of workers, first responders, and volunteers scour over ruins of the Veterans Administration Hospital in Sylmar, removing tiles and rubble in search of trapped victims.

Community Effort

Bruce Cox

February 9, 1971, Sylmar, CA

The 1971 San Fernando earthquake, also known as the “Sylmar Quake,” took place on the morning of February 9, 1971 around 6:01am. The 6.6 magnitude earthquake with an epicenter located along a 12 mile fault zone below the San Gabriel Mountains lasted approximately 12 seconds and affected the entire San Fernando Valley. The earthquake caused over $500 million in damages, around 64 deaths, and critical destruction to the infrastructure of the region. The Olive View Medical Center was most adversely affected when a newly finished six story psychiatric ward collapsed, as well as the Veteran Administration Hospital in Sylmar.  The unreinforced concrete wings of the V.A Hospital, built in 1925, toppled leaving 47 dead and numerous victims trapped below the wreckage. Following the San Fernando Earthquake, new seismic safety building codes and legislation such as the Alquist-Priolo Act, which bans development near active fault lines in California, were put into place.

Mandatory Credit: Brue Cox/ The L.A. Times/ ME.Quake71.1.1Ð22Ðm2.7.$
LA Times staff writer: Kenneth Reich, 2/4/1996/ Los Angeles Daily News writer: Dana Bartholomew,
2/8/2016/ NBC Los Angeles writer: Jonathan Lloyd, 2/8/2019

EN 0209 B QUAKE 3 P.jpg

At a Granada Hills market, previously located at 18045 Chatsworth Street, clerk Merlin Saunders begins the arduous task of cleaning up the tremendous mess left by the 1971 San Fernando earthquake. Boxes and cans of food were knocked from shelves by the earthquake and large aftershocks.


Al Markado

February 9, 1971, Granada Hills, CA

The 1971 San Fernando earthquake with a 6.6 magnitude and large aftershocks caused over $500 million in damages and destruction to infrastructure; including the collapsed freeway overpasses on the Interstate freeways 5, 14, and 210, destruction of several hospitals in the North Los Angeles area, and damage to the Van Norman Dam in Granada Hills.  The dam, which crumbled during the earthquake and during the following aftershocks, held approximately 3.6 billion gallons of water. Around 80,000 residents were required to evacuate from the area for three days due to fears that the whole area would be flooded by the dam’s water reserve.

Mandatory Credit: Al Markado/ The Los Angeles Times/ ME.Quake71.2.1Ð22Ðm2.7.$
LA Times staff writers: Kenneth Reich, 2/4/1996/ Los Angeles Daily News writer: Dana Bartholomew,
2/8/2016/ NBC Los Angeles writer: Jonathan Lloyd, 2/8/2019


This aerial photo depicts the collapsed overpasses of the Newhall Pass Interchange near Sylmar, CA, a result of the 1971 San Fernando-Sylmar earthquake. The Interstate freeways 5 and 14 were damaged in numerous places, including several connectors and overhead bridges of the Newhall Pass Interchange, which were under construction at the time of the earthquake.

Disastrous Highway Breakdown

Al Markado

February 9, 1971, Sylmar, CA

The San Fernando earthquake occurred in 1971 with a magnitude of 6.6. The Newhall Pass infrastructure project which is located northwest of the San Fernando Valley in Weldon Canyon and less than eight miles from two other major freeway interchanges, prompted Councilman Donald Lorenzen to criticize conglomeration of freeways and connectors as “putting too many eggs in one basket.” The majority of damage to freeway structures during the “Sylmar Quake” ranged from minor cracking and slanting to the complete destruction of major sections of the interchange bridges. The San Fernando earthquake caused approximately 65 deaths, up to 1,000 personal injuries, and resulted in over 500 million dollars in damages. The Newhall Pass was rebuilt and finished in 1973 with the institution of new earthquake safety standards and additional steel rebar reinforcement. However, twenty-one years later the Newhall Pass Interchange would collapse again in almost the exact same location during the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

Mandatory Credit: Al Markado/ The Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times Contributor: Larry Sharkey (retired)