The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Couple remembers the ’94 quake that brought them together

It happened during winter break. On Jan. 17, 1994, at 4:30 a.m., CSUN sophomore Melissa Lindell was sound asleep in her dorm room in Building #10. Not far away, in Heather Hall, CSUN junior Robby Lowell was lying in bed thinking, ‘We haven’t had an earthquake in a long time.’ A minute later, Robby’s bed was shaking so hard, he had to hold on to avoid being thrown to the floor.

At exactly 4:31 a.m., 15 years ago, a 6.7 magnitude earthquake shook the Los Angeles area. The Northridge quake left 57 people dead, thousands injured, and countless buildings damaged or destroyed to the tune of $15 billion. All 107 buildings on the CSUN campus were damaged, some beyond repair. But there was a silver lining in the midst of the dark clouds that defined this natural disaster: Students Robby and Melissa fell in love.

While the ground was shaking, Melissa, a child development major, was in shock. ‘It wasn’t until after the R.A. pounded on my door that I put on my clothes and ran out of the building.’ Melissa soon found herself standing in the dorm parking lot in the dark with several other students. Meanwhile, Robby had his own reaction to the quake. ‘I thought it was a bomb,’ said the RTF (radio/TV/film) major. ‘It was pitch black because the power was out, so I had to feel my way out of the room,’ said Robby.

After he and his roommate forced open a jammed emergency door, Robby was outside in the parking lot too, where the R.A.s were passing out sheets and blankets.

‘It was freezing cold outside,’ said Melissa. ‘I asked Robby if he wanted to share a sheet.’ Robby recalled, ‘We saw blue lights and sparks in the sky’mdash;it was the transformers blowing out across the city.’

But there were also sparks flying between Robby and Melissa. After a mutual friend introduced them, Melissa asked Robby if he wanted to share the blanket with her. Robby agreed, and as they huddled close, the chemistry grew, even as the earth rumbled with aftershocks. Robby remembers his initial ‘pick-up line’ was, ‘What’s your major?’ Since the R.A. informed the 400 or so students outside that it was unsafe to re-enter the dorms, about five quake refugees spent the next day at Melissa’s mom’s home in Encino.’ ‘My mom was on a honeymoon cruise through the Panama Canal,’ Melissa said. ‘She didn’t have access to a land line, and had to spend around $700 to satellite a phone call to me.’

When they finally connected days after the disaster, Melissa told her, ‘Mom, I’ve met the man I’m going to marry.’

The Granada Hills home of Melissa’s brother, Steve Kesten, was red-tagged after the quake. ‘My sister told me that she met this amazing guy. I said: ‘What? There was an earthquake and you were picking up guys?” said her other brother, Rob Levy. The ‘pick-up’ blossomed into a wonderful courtship, and on April 26, 1998, CSUN graduates Robby and Melissa tied the knot.

Currently, Melissa is the director of a preschool and Robby works in the film business.

Each has followed through with their passion from their CSUN days. And talk about coming full circle: Melissa’s parents are going back to the Panama Canal this January on another cruise. ‘Which means there will be another earthquake,’ said Robby.

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