When it comes to natural disasters, Southern California has always had more than the usual array of possibilities—fire, floods, earthquakes and mudslides all plague the region. The Claremont Colleges have usually been lucky enough to escape the wrath of Mother Nature, but not without exception.
In 1990, for example, Claremont was affected by a 5.4-magnitude earthquake centered north of Upland.
“It shook quite a lot,” said Judy Sahak, Director of the Ellen Strong Denison Library at Scripps College. “In fact, over at Honnold, many books were off the shelves.”
Fire, another type of disaster endemic to Southern California, struck even more recently.
“The grand reopening of Garrison Theater with a gala and concert was in October 2003, and there was a fire up in the San Bernardino mountains,” Sahak said. “I remember going in to the concert, leaving the concert and having the smell of smoke.”
Although “parents [of 5C students] were very concerned from afar,” the colleges themselves sustained little damage, Sahak said.
While fire is almost an expected hazard in the Inland Empire’s dry climate, water has proven to be even more dangerous. In March 1938, water rushed down the mountain toward Claremont after the combination of severe storm weather and melting snow caused the San Antonio creek to break check dams at the mouth of San Antonio canyon.
Streets were filled with water-laden debris, though damages were primarily incurred on the campuses of Scripps and Pomona College, flooding some basement and ground levels of residence halls. Students attempted to clear the halls and streets with hoses and shovels, according to the issue of TSL published March 5, 1938.
The flood caused hundreds of deaths in Southern California, but the March 5 issue of TSL did not list any Claremont Colleges students among the casualties. TSL reported that “although the flood at its worst broke highway, railway, telephone, and telegraph communication … only 3 were known dead” in Claremont. Henry Lackey, 34, Melba, 6, and Jack, an 18-day-old baby, drowned while attempting to escape to higher ground from their residence in their car.
A water-related disaster did claim the lives of 5C students in 1998, when a eucalyptus tree with roots weakened by heavy rainfall fell onto a car stopped on the Pomona College campus. Two Pomona sophomores inside the car, Brian Cressner and Yuta “Peter” Kurahashi, were killed.
Those heavy rains also triggered mudslides throughout San Luis Obispo County, but the 5C campuses did not suffer significant damage.