There is a precedent for a California earthquake coinciding with a national cable-industry event. On Jan. 16, 1994, celebrities, newsmakers and cable industry executives gathered at Los Angeles’s Pantages Theatre for the CableACE Awards. Hours later, the city was rocked by the deadliest earthquake in five years.
“If I remember right, I think it was a black-tie event,” former Cablevision magazine editor Craig Leddy, now the founder of Interactive TV Works, recalled. “Cable was really trying to be glamorous.”
HBO took home 34 of 88 awards at the ceremony, according to the Los Angeles Times, including a win by The Larry Sanders Show for best comedy, beating out Beavis and Butt-head. The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom won best movie or miniseries.
After the show, people went back to their hotels or off to afterparties.
Leddy was already up at the Century Plaza hotel when the quake struck because he had an early flight back to New York. “It sounded like a big rainstorm and then everything started shaking,” he said. For Leddy, who grew up in the Midwest and lived on the East Coast, this was unchartered territory.
“I said, ‘Wow, if that’s only a tremor, I’m a real wimp,’ ” he recalled. “That thing scared the hell out of me.”
It wasn’t a tremor. The Northridge earthquake struck at 4:31 a.m. about 20 miles northwest of downtown L.A. on Jan. 17, 1994, registering 6.7 on the Richter scale. More than 60 people were killed and damage was caused up to 85 miles away.
“I already had my bags packed, so I got dressed and I did what I thought was the only logical thing to do, which was to clean out the mini-bar,” he said. He took snacks, candy bars and a few beers, “because you never know when beers are going to come in handy in a disaster.”
He saw electrical transformers blowing up in the distance. He walked out into a completely dark hallway and smelled gas. The hotel made an announcement that someone would be coming to escort guests out, but Leddy wasn’t waiting around. He and others started feeling their way down the stairwell.
In the lobby, a broken pipe was gushing water. Leddy passed out minibar snacks, some to people with only towels wrapped around their bodies.
A colleague waded through the water to get to a rental car and gave Leddy a lift to the airport.
“Of course, we land in New York and there’s a big snowstorm,” he said.