LOS ANGELES, OCT. 2 -- Juan Herrera grew up in the highlands of Guatemala and had lived through earthquakes. Although it was not exactly fear he and his roommate mentioned when they talked about it, they recalled vividly how earthquakes there loosened cliffs and smashed houses and killed whole families in numbers too big and awful to count with much precision.
Yesterday morning, shortly after the worst earthquake here in 15 years, Herrera, 32, was found naked and bleeding on the sidewalk below his second-story apartment. He died without regaining consciousness, and officials concluded that the quake flung him through the large window in the bathroom where he had been showering.
But the window had been opened, not shattered, and Herrera's roommate, Julio Saenz, said no one would shower in front of a window open to the street.
His frightened roommate, Saenz said today, must have felt the quake begin, feared what was coming and leaped to his death in an effort to get out of the building.
Of all the Los Angeles residents coping today with the aftermath of the 6.1-magnitude quake that killed at least six people, Latin American immigrants were among the hardest hit.
Many have vivid memories of disastrous earthquakes in Mexico and Central America, and for economic reasons, many live here in the buildings most vulnerable to a quake.
Hundreds of Hispanics spent Thursday night sleeping in parks or Red Cross shelters or automobiles parked in front of their own homes.
"In the highlands, all the villages are built of adobe," Saenz said in Spanish as he smoked a cigarette in the back of the Los Angeles market where he and Herrera had worked together as butchers. What happens to adobe in a strong earthquake can best be illustrated by a quick, flat drop of the hand, and that was what Saenz did, imagining the fear of a man whose family had survived the 1976 Guatemala earthquake that killed as many as 25,000 people.
"He feels the shaking," Saenz said. "Without thinking, he jumps out the window. There's no other explanation."
Large numbers of people clustered Thursday in the streets outside the downtown Red Cross building, afraid to return to their homes nearby.
"At least a fourth of our volunteers speak Spanish," Red Cross spokeswoman Peggy McGinley said. Red Cross vans fanned through the downtown and other parts of Los Angeles throughout the evening, offering food and counsel to families that had decided to spend the night outside.
Some were forced from older and unreinforced apartment buildings whose walls cracked or crumbled with the earthquake and its aftershocks. Others -- apparently like Herrera -- were working from the recollection of inexpensively built houses that collapsed under the strain of even a moderate earthquake.
Eight emergency Red Cross shelters, each housing 50 to 100 people, have been set up in public buildings, McGinley said.
In the shelter at Garfield High School, in the Hispanic district called East Los Angeles, a television tuned to Spanish-language soap operas played today to a gymnasium full of blue cots. All 125 cots were occupied Thursday night, said Red Cross worker Henry Cantu, and most of the refugees planned to stay again tonight.
"We have to wait 72 hours to see if there's another earthquake," said Norma Vallejo, 19, who emigrated to California nine years ago from Mexico. "After that, at least we can look for another apartment to live in." Firefighters told her family that it would be unsafe to return to their second-story apartment in a building severely weakened by the quake.
"Most of the people who live there don't have much money, and to get another apartment, you need a minimum of $1,000," sister-in-law Gabriela Vallejo said in Spanish. "Nobody's got that kind of money."
At the market called La Imperial, where Juan Herrera had worked for nine years and told his coworkers proudly last month that he finally had a work visa, a small notice was taped near the cash register above a makeshift pink donation box. "The companions, friends, and family of Juan Emilio Herrera, 'El Flaco,' pass on to you the sad notice of his death," it read. El flaco translates affectionately as "the skinny one."
The notice asked people to contribute to Herrera's family and ended, "May God bless him." A spiral-notebook page, laid on the counter so that people could write in their names and the amount of their pledges, was already half full.