It began with a thunderous boom followed by a loud crack. Then the entire building started shaking. Seconds later, showers of water gushed from the ceiling and everyone got up and ran out of the offices.
That was the experience of the Signal Tribune’s staff late Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 20, and in a matter of minutes, everything in every office in the building was drenched.
“At first it sounded to me like lightning had struck, but when the building started to shake I thought we were having an earthquake,” said Signal Tribune publisher Neena Strichart. “Then all the water started pouring in from every ceiling tile.”
At that point, Strichart shouted for all her employees to immediately evacuate the building. Seconds after their exodus, the indoor shower turned into a deluge, and ceiling tiles started falling to the floor.
“When the shaking and the noise stopped, we took our lives into our hands and went back in to grab what we could,” Strichart said. She explained that, after putting on a hardhat she’d had in her office, she carried out a small aquarium and her husband Steve carried out the office mascots– two lizards kept in a glass cage.
Before going back in, Strichart called the fire department and the Signal Hill Police Department (SHPD). Crews from Los Angeles Fire Department Station 60 arrived soon afterwards. Seconds later, several SHPD squad cars pulled up.
Firefighters walked through every office in the building to ascertain the danger, then they and several police officers helped carry items out of the offices.”
Captain Ron Mark and Sergeant Ron Sagmit helped us get all of our vintage Signal Hill photographs and memorabilia off the walls and out of the building,” Strichart said. “We put some of that stuff in one of the city vehicles and in our own cars. We took our computers and got what we could, within reason.”
“When we got there, we were just glad nobody was hurt,” Mark said. “But it is sad that so many things were damaged by the water.” He praised the fire department for their rapid response. “A lot of teamwork helped make the best of a bad situation,” he added.
It took until Monday afternoon to get all the files out of the building. “The good news is that the old, metal filing cabinets– given to us by THUMS about 10 years ago– are waterproof, so our files were not damaged,” Strichart said. The same could not be said for paperwork stacked on desks and shelves. “Anything made of paper or cloth that was not in the filing cabinets got completely soaked,” she said.
The Signal Tribune’s new location is 939 E. 27th St. “It’s cattycorner from our old building,” Strichart said. “It’s a brand-new building owned by Jim Birmingham, and he was just wonderful in the way he helped us move in there so quickly.”
Strichart explained that Shari Blackwell, owner of the Undershirt Company, who was another tenant in the flooded building, called her to say she was moving into Birmingham’s building and there were other units available.
“That was Thursday morning, while we were at the printer getting the paper set up,” Strichart said. “We had to go there with everything on flash drive and finish up the paper at the printer.” She explained that Rodgers & McDonald Printers in Carson gave her and her staff temporary office space and Internet access so that the paper could hit the streets by Friday morning.
With Neena busy in Carson, Steve went to the Birmingham building and liked what he saw. “When I came later and saw it, I knew it was perfect,” Strichart said. “The owner told us, ‘Don’t worry about signing a lease until Monday. Don’t give me any money today. Here are the keys. Start moving in.’”
Thus, less than 24 hours after the deluge, the Signal Tribune had a new home. The newspaper’s former location was in a two-building complex, and only the north building was damaged by the heavy rainstorm of Jan. 20.
According to Donn Showers, building official for the City of Signal Hill, the roof of the two-story building had collapsed under the weight of a massive amount of water. “The storm drains just could not let the rainwater pass through fast enough,” he said. “It accumulated on the roof until the weight was more than the roof could sustain. At that point it collapsed.”
William Goldsmith, the building’s owner, agreed. “We had two-and-a-half to three inches of rain fall in 30 minutes,” he said. “We had a super cell of rain directly over us.”
Goldsmith said it will cost approximately $500,000 to repair the building, which is covered by Hartford Insurance. He noted that work crews have installed a temporary roof that is keeping any more water from entering the building.
Showers said the building is currently “yellow tagged.” That designation prohibits occupancy but allows tenants and others to enter the building for the purpose of removing their belongings.
Strichart said aside from the files, most of what was in her suite of offices will have to be thrown away due to water damage and mold. “God bless Golden Eagle Insurance that is covering our losses,” she said. Until the phone system is set up in the new building, all calls made to the Signal Tribune are being forwarded to Strichart’s home where her 90-year-old mother Marjorie Grommé is taking messages, which she passes on via the newspaper staff’s cell phones. Strichart noted that the office computers were also damaged by the deluge and are now at Genus Services in Bixby Knolls, where computer technicians are retrieving data. Meanwhile, Strichart has purchased two new computers for the new office and some staff are using their own computers.
“We are thankful to God that nobody was hurt, and we are thankful to everyone who came to help us,” Strichart said. “The first person who showed up to help us was Cindy Orozco of Orozco’s Auto Repair, but lots of people came to us asking what they could do to help.”