First there was a deafening boom. Then the walls began to shake and crumble, and the ceiling began to cave in. Amy Windmiller jumped from the couch where she was eating a snack and ran screaming for the door. Her roommate, Shannon Jones, leaped from her bed and out a shattered window. Both of the women, who are seniors at Cal State-Northridge, escaped from their first-floor apartment near the epicenter of the devastating earthquake that hit Southern California on Jan. 17.
"We made it out into the courtyard," Jones says of the moments before the top two stories of the three-story building collapsed onto the bottom floor, "but the exit was blocked. We were safe, but we were trapped. For the next two hours we could hear screaming all around us, people trying to get out, and there was nothing we could do. We knew there had to be a lot of fatalities."
Sixteen residents of the Northridge Meadows apartment complex died that morning—all of them had lived on the first floor.
"We were so lucky," Windmiller says. "If it hadn't been for the support of our families and friends, I don't know how we would have gotten through all of this."
Jones and Windmiller, both seniors, not only survived the devastation and healed emotionally but have also found further solace in their success this season on the softball held. At week's end Windmiller, a righthanded pitcher, had thrown five no-hitters en route to a 15-1 record, including a 3-1 victory last Saturday over archrival and fifth-ranked Fresno State. Jones, a third baseman and career .200 hitter before this season, had a .395 average and was among the Matadors' leaders in almost every offensive category. In only its third season at the Division I level, Northridge was 26-5, ranked sixth in the country and bidding for its second straight trip to the women's College World Series.
"We deal with stress all the time," Northridge coach Gary Torgeson says of his team, "but nobody has written a book on how you coach and deal with life and death. Amy and Shannon listened to people die. Nobody knows how that will affect a person. But these two have gotten stronger and more focused about everything in their lives."
"In a sense, I guess what we went through helped us strengthen our games," says Windmiller. "This was our senior year, and we wanted to go out and give it everything. But that first week after the earthquake was really tough."
In all, 14 players on the Northridge team were left homeless when their quake-damaged apartment buildings were condemned.
Windmiller and Jones, longtime friends and former teammates at Mira Loma High in Sacramento, relied heavily on each other to cope with the aftermath of the quake. It hasn't been easy. "When I go to bed at night, I try not to think about it, but I can't help it," Jones says. "I can't help thinking, 'I hope I wake up in the morning.' "
A pair of L.A. earthquake survivors have foes trembling on the diamond.