Behind The News
July 30, 2008 1:57:36 PM PDT
I'm not sure I remember my first earthquake; it was, after all, so long ago. But I do remember quite clearly growing up with earthquakes, and the rather helpless feeling that comes with the ground shaking and the walls swaying and the sense that we are simply not in control of our surroundings.

I learned long ago that the best survival tools, in addition to water and food supplies to last a few days, is to make sure that, by your bed, are a pair of shoes, a working flashlight and a crowbar.

The shoes, so you can get something on your feet without stepping on glass in the middle of the night. The flashlight, well that should be obvious. And the crowbar is so that you can pry open your bedroom door after it slams shut and is wedged closed from the shifting walls.

It's been more than 15 years since I moved from Los Angeles, but whenever and wherever there's a temblor, I think about living through them, think about the damage, think about the people who have died in earthquakes.

I've covered toppled bridges and buildings, and houses so unsafe no one was allowed inside, unless they were there to raze the structure. I've had cracks in my own home and once lost a chimney. I've bolted the foundation of my home, bought earthquake insurance. And I crossed my fingers.

The quake this afternoon 40 or so miles east of Los Angeles caused quite a stir, but it quickly became apparent that the first jolt - there were dozens of smaller aftershocks that followed - wasn't "The Big One" that so many people predict, and so many others fear.

No major damage, no reported injuries, and, at a 5.4 magnitude, it wasn't a huge quake. But any shaking can scare the wits out of people, and with the instant cable news coverage (is it really "Breaking News" hours after it happens?) the earthquake may have felt psychologically bigger than it was geologically.

There were few pictures of the epicenter in Chino Hills, and it was frustrating for anyone who knows Southern California to watch pictures of downtown L.A. on the cable news channels. That would be like us showing a picture of the Empire State Building for an event in Peekskill. But you show the pictures you have, I suppose.

We'll have the latest on the earthquake and on the science of all this -- tonight at 11.

We're also following the fallout - and it figures to be a long haul - from Gov. Paterson's frank talk about the ailing New York State budget and economy. His televised speech - a rare occurrence - is set to happen after this column is written. But we're covering the speech and will have the latest on his plans to cut services and spending.

Also at 11, some promising news on the Alzheimer's front. An experimental drug has shown, for the first time in any test, the possibility of halting the progression of Alzheimer's. It apparently breaks up protein tangles that clog the brain.

It could be, say experts, a big deal. And we're looking at the study tonight.

And we'll have the latest on Sharpe James, the former Mayor of Newark, who today was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison for selling city land at bargain rates to his former mistress.

Federal prosecutors wanted a 20 year sentence, but the judge had sent out the signal last week that a long prison sentence, in his opinion, wasn't warranted. It was a surprise to many people, and of course a pleasant surprise to the 72-year-old James.

In court, the former Newark powerhouse apologized "to my wife of 44 years and my mother, who is 94, for the hardship and suffering they have had to endure." Then, in a statement that is a bit shocking, he said, "If I made a mistake, it was not of malice or intent."

We'll also have any breaking news of the night, plus Lee Goldberg's AccuWeather forecast, and Marvell Scott (in for Scott Clark) with the night's sports. I hope you can join Liz Cho and me, tonight at 11.