Archive for November, 2008

I had just finished work, waiting tables at Pizzeria Uno on Lombard Street in the Marina. As I walked, I suddenly felt as if I were climbing a hill; it was the wave passing under my feet. I saw a steel pole across the street sway like a baby tree, almost touching the sidewalk on each swing. People on the street were fairly calm. I learned later that the ground two blocks away had shifted much more. Fires were starting and homes were lost. I got on the bus and headed to my night class at the University of San Francisco, which, of course, was closed. So, I picked up some whiskey and walked back to my home in the Haight-Ashbury — standing steady in a part of the City built on bedrock, a part that had survived the more serious quake of 1906. Traffic lights were out in the Haight and Cole Valley but street lights came back quickly. What I most remember is the feeling of camaraderie. Bars were selling out their kegs and using up their ice, and neighbors partied with neighbors.

By Barbara Saunders


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My son, Peter, and I were sitting in the stands just beyond the left field foul pole at Candlestick Park for Game Three of the World Series between the Athletics and the Giants. It was very warm that day, and I was sitting in my seat waiting for the opening ceremonies and feeling a bit tired. I had gotten up early to get my work down in Berkeley and get back out to Dublin and pick up Peter from school. Originally I had planned to drive to San Leandro and take BART to the Peninsula, then take a bus to the park to avoid the traffic. But as I approached the Castro Valley area I saw that it was only 1:30 and the game wasn’t going to start for hours, so I drove all the way. That ended up being a really good decision.

Peter and I walked around inside the park, getting souvenirs and food before finding our seats. Batting practice was still going on and at one point Mark McGwire hit a booming shot right at my seat. I stood up to catch it and it slammed off my hand and up into the seats behind me. That hand was sore for days afterward.

So as 5:00 approached I was almost dozing in the warmth, watching a couple of field people walk across the grass with gigantic bunches of balloons in tow. The crowd was buzzing and the excitement level was starting to ramp up. At 5:04 the first sign something was up came when I heard a rhythmic stomping sound. The stands under my feet started bouncing and for a moment I thought people were stamping their feet. I heard a roaring, rumbling noise and there was a jet flying overhead. What the? And then the full force of the quake hit. I stood up and Peter clutched at me while the whole place started to rock n’ roll. The neat, orderly lines of seats seemed to sway in a blur and the light stanchions moved back and forth. I heard a glass crash in the sky box above me and the large plexi billboard nearby was putting up a spooky racket as well. Finally it all settled down to a low rumble and we all stood in shocked silence, 54,000 people wondering what was next.

Then a huge cheer went up, as if we’d all just come off the scariest ride at the amusement park. Everyone was chattering on about what we had felt and there was no real damage done to the stadium that we could see. Then the first images started coming in on the many portable TV’s folks had brought. The Cypress, the Bay Bridge, Santa Cruz, the Marina District. Oh, God.

Peter and I stood around for about 30 minutes and from the looks of things I guessed early on that this game wasn’t happening. We walked back out to the car, parked in the small shoreline area outside the main lot. As we walked, I looked back at Candlestick and saw the column of smoke coming up over the horizon from the Marina fire. We stayed in the lot until close to 11PM, monitoring the road and bridge conditions on the radio before I decided it was time to go. We got out onto 101 South and crawled all the way to the San Mateo Bridge while I heard that it was open, then not, then open again. As we drove over the bridge Peter fell into a fitful sleep while I fretted about the possibility of an aftershock knocking the bridge down and hurling us into the water.

Safely on the east side I finally got us back to Dublin, happy to be unscathed but worried about my co-workers from Berkeley. The next day I went to Custom Process, the photo lab where I worked, to check the damage. All the chemistry in my film machines was ruined by cross contamination and the stuff was all over the floor. A clock that hung in the main room had fallen face down, and when I picked it up it had stopped at exactly 5:04. I still have that clock. All our co-workers were accounted for save one. She had just been coming off the Cypress structure as the quake hit and had seen the destruction in her rear view mirror. She drove straight home and didn’t communicate with anyone for three days. We all had our way of dealing with it. I went to UC Berkeley and donated blood. Peter was up in the middle of the night for a few days afterward with bad dreams. The whole Bay Area was in a state of shock for weeks. I hope never to see the Really Big One if that wasn’t It.

By Ed Newbegin

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“I’m feeling dizzy,” I told Eder my next door neighbor. I stood outside his tool shed in his backyard, mock machine gun in one hand looking down the sloping driveway. I think I was seven. It’s strange because I came from a baseball family, and I wasn’t watching the World Series. As a matter of fact I didn’t become a hardcore Giants fan until about tenth grade. I was young, and I was playing war next door with my friend.

“Just come in the shed, it’s base, it’s fine,” he said.

I listened to my wise friend because after all he was a year older. I stepped into the dark tool shed, “It’s in here too,” I told him.

“Don’t worry about it,” he replied, and so we began to battle whoever the hell we were battling.

I remember not being able to shake the feeling. Being in Napa, up in the North Bay, we didn’t get it quite as bad as some of the surrounding areas, and certainly the cities. I don’t remember the ground shaking, it was almost as if it was just tilting, or as if I was on a merry go round.

At the time I was too young, I was scared of roller coasters, but it was that feeling that I had. When you get off a roller coaster and you have adrenaline pumping and your eyes are trying to catch up with your brain. That light headedness, equilibrium slightly askew.

I gave up the war, surrendered and walked further into his backyard. Our older brothers and some of the neighborhood kids were concentrated on a tackle football game they had going. I still could feel something wasn’t right so I asked my brother who must’ve been twelve at the time what was going on.

“It’s an earthquake,” he said with a beaming smile. So simple, kid didn’t have a care in the world, he said it as if earthquakes were as common as a fall shower, and how he knew it so quickly, like he was a geologist. It was eerie. I can still see that smile.

I ran to my house and asked my mom what was going on, but she shut me up with a “shh” and continued listening to the radio. I remember being a little upset that she had shut me up so quickly, but then again my feelings got hurt rather easily when I was young, and I guess they still do.

I was excited to go to school the next day, and see if anyone else felt it. I didn’t know the magnitude partly because I was distant from the epicenter, partly because I was just a kid.

So while others were pancaked by tons of concrete on unforgiving expressways, and others fought fires that tore through neighborhoods, and the will and the heart of a people, and city was tested. I just played.


For those of you new to the Bay Area I do have another quake story for you, that illustrates more what a quake is like.

I didn’t feel one since Loma Prieta until the year 2000 when I believe a 5.4 centered out of Yountville, California rocked the valley like a grape crusher. Ironically enough, I had been in San Francisco earlier that day on a date at the Giants game. It was a grand day, and that night about 2 in the morning it happened. I was watching a stand up show on Comedy Central, and the TV flickered, and this demonic roar could be heard. It was not so much startling, or scary, but downright disturbing. Supernatural even. This ghoulish blue-green light flashed in my windows like those goddamn aliens were on the loose. People said it was from gasses being released and even rich residents on the tops of valley hills said they could see the light in the valley below. The earth moved like a wave. I’ve never been in a tornado, or a hurricane, but those disasters seem explainable. Just really bad storms, and I don’t mean to downplay them at all, because they are really, really bad storms.

I tell quake virgins though, when you know something’s so solid, when it’s been there all you’re life and you’ve almost never noticed it. The ground, so solid I would venture a guess that most people would consider it one of the most solid things they know of. Now imagine that solidness, that ground you’ve walked on every day of your life, becoming a literal wave. Moving in ways you might think are impossible, and when it does happen you’re at a loss for words and reasoning.

My bed went up and down like I was a fisherman in the North Sea, rocking and rolling in the earthly swells. The roar of nature, spitting gas, and destroying homes.

When it was over, I didn’t want to move. I wanted to go to the doorway because that’s one of the techniques I learned in grade school. I was in high school now, but I was home alone and I felt very vulnerable. I remember staring at the ceiling when this was happening waiting for the roof to cave in on my face. I was paralyzed with fear.

I didn’t want to get up because I thought it’d be like one of those cartoons where if I stepped on the ground I would disturb the earth and it would start all over again. Finally I went to the doorframe, and a small aftershock took place, just a second of small shaking. The house was a mess, and I cut my foot on a piece of glass, and I remember thinking I would turn on the TV and see Frisco in absolute shambles. I thought this was the “Big One.”

I remember calling my dad who was in Tahoe with my mom, but it was one of their first nights at the cabin and so when I called, they couldn’t find the phone. I remember leaving a message on my dads cell phone whom at the time didn’t know how to access his messages. I told him I thought the “Big One” hit but that I was okay, and I remember the waver in my voice, and knew I was truly shook up.

My buddy and I drove around town early that morning surveying the damage, and tailed a news van for a good hour and half who eventually noticed we were following them and lost us in Yountville which is a story in itself, considering Yountville’s the size of my thumbnail.

By Tyler Brown

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I was 15 at the time, and a student at Sequoia High School in Redwood City. I was on the swim team, and we had a meet that very day at a high school in Burlingame.

We arrived at the school around 3pm. There wasn’t any parking, and the Coach was tempted to park on a hill that was on campus. He didn’t feel it was safe, so he moved the van to flat ground. Thank God.

We finished the meet at just before 5pm, then we said our goodbuys and got in the van. No more than 2 minutes later, the van started rocking. At first we thought it might be the opposing team playing a prank on us, but I sat up and looked outside and saw the cars in the parking lot rocking back and forth. Then finally it was over. If we were still parked on the hill, the van would have rolled, and none of us inside the van would be alive. See, the van didn’t have seats; therefore, no seat belts.

As we were heading back to our school, I remember seeing water, from broken fire hydrants, shooting up in the air, seeing broken windows, and people walking around upset and scared.

We got back to our school, and a few of the students were crying. I asked them if they were OK, and they told us that a part of the Bay Bridge collapsed, killing a few people. I thought that this couldn’t be happening and that I need to get home. Now.

The phone lines were down so I couldn’t call. I jumped on my bicycle and started home. I got to the major intersection by the school and there was a police officer directing traffic. He literally stopped all traffic for me to cross, and told me to get home as fast as I can, but be careful. I told him thank you and pedaled as fast as I could. I couldn’t believe what had happened, and the aftermath of it all.

Finally, I get home. My mom and my stepfather are listening to the radio in the garage, waiting for me. I heard my mom’s sigh of relief and I jumped off my bike and hugged her. I could tell my stepfather was relieved, as well, even though the man couldn’t show emotion to save his life.

The days following the earthquake, I saw people wearing t-shirts, saying “I survived the quake.’ All I could say to that was, “Duh.” I didn’t really know the significance of actually being able to wear that shirt. Now, after 9/11, the significance is extreme.

All I know is that being prepared saves lives. Let’s not get caught being unprepared.

By Sherry Lloyd

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October 17, 1989, was a peaceful Tuesday at the office. I worked as a welfare caseworker in Redwood City and I was looking forward to Wednesday, my off day. Around 5 PM, I was sitting at my desk, finishing up some paperwork and listening to Great White on my Walkman.

All of a sudden, the floor started shaking. Since my move from Pennsylvania to California in February 1988, I had experienced a few minor tremors. But this was different. Instead of a few quick jolts, the shaking continued. Clive, the acting supervisor shouted, “Get under your desk!” I dived to the floor, and it felt like the floor was undulating, bouncing up and down. The office had a second story, a ring around a center courtyard. I knew that if the story above me collapsed, it would fall into the courtyard, trapping us in our first floor office. Throughout the room, files and books were falling onto the floor. I prayed that nothing more substantial would fall. After what seemed like minutes, the shaking stopped and the lights went out. I gingerly stood up and started picking up things on the floor. Clive discovered that the telephones were not working and he left to check on the employees on the second floor. When he returned, he told us to go home, as we couldn’t work without electricity or phone service. I didn’t know how I would get home to San Mateo. I was sure CalTrain service had been suspended, but I didn’t know if SamTrans had been affected. Clive offered me a ride home.

The drive home was like an obstacle course. Traffic lights weren’t working and nervous drivers weren’t following the usual rules of courtesy. But I was relieved to see that the lights were on in my apartment. The phone was working sporadically, but several of my friends from Back East were able to get through. CNN had shown the San Mateo Bridge during a report and since everyone knew I lived in San Mateo, they suspected the worse. My roommates and I sat watching the news reports about the damage throughout the Bay Area. It seemed like a dream. I had just been on the Bay Bridge two days ago.

Physically, I thought I was fine, but an aftershock caused my heart to start racing and my breathing to become shallow. The electricity went out and I stayed in my bedroom listening to reports of fires and looting. But I couldn’t go to sleep or close the bedroom door. I had an irrational fear that if I closed the door and went to sleep, there would be another earthquake. For several nights, I couldn’t sleep in my bedroom, but slept on the sofa in the communal living room. It took a few more nights for me to be able to sleep in my room with the lights off. It took even longer for me to be able to take a deep breath again.

Eventually, the aftershocks stopped, my nerves and breath returned to normal, and I decided to move to Sacramento. I will always remember that day. It was the day my love affair with the Bay Area ended. As the song goes, “Once bitten, twice shy.”

By Beatrice Hogg

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I was living in San Leandro. I was 28 at the time, and had only lived in the East Bay for about a year, being raised in northern Marin.  I had been married about six months to my then struggling stand-up comic husband, Brian, and our first-born son, Adam was just six months old.  Brian had gone out to run a few errands, and while I sat on the couch of our two-story apartment, Adam played and crawled around on the floor in front of me.

All of a sudden I heard a rumbling. It got louder and louder, and then the shaking began.  Not shaking really, like I had experienced many times in my life having grown up in the SF Bay Area, but more of a rolling motion.

The entire apartment suddenly felt like it was going to collapse.  Out of instinct, I picked Adam up off the floor in front of me and did as I had always been taught growing up–I ran to the front door to stand under the door jam.

As I looked around, all I could see at every apartment door were moms holding their children-just as I was-wondering (yet knowing) what was going on.

After the initial “quake” subsided and I felt it was safe to move away from the door, I immediately turned on the radio.  My husband worked part time in broadcasting with KGO radio, and I instinctively turned on KGO radio, since it was always the news station we had programmed in to our stereos.

Then it hit me…this was much more than a little rumble–THERE WAS NO KGO!!!  Not only that, there was NO RADIO–NO TELEVISION–NO ANSWERS!

We had all been raised with the good old sharp tone that came across our radios and televisions growing up.  Following it was, “THIS HAS BEEN A TEST-IT WAS ONLY A TEST OF THE EMERGENCY BROADCAST SYSTEM.  IF THIS HAD BEEN AN ACTUAL EMERGENCY, THE BROADCASTERS IN YOUR AREA WOULD DIRECT YOU TO…BLAH, BLAH, BHAH”.  That’s what I feel now, because on that day, THERE WAS NO BROADCASTING AT ALL!!!  There was NO radio.  There was NO television.  Everyone was clueless as to anything that was going on around them.  It was extremely scary.

My husband came home about an hour later.  As he had been running errands and in the car at the time of the quake, he said that it felt to him like he got a flat tire.  He was at a stop light, and as he looked to check his tires, he saw others out of their cars doing the same.  He realized that there was no way he could even feel he had a flat tire, as he had not been moving at the time.

All the street signals were out and he realized something wasn’t right, since he, too, could receive no broadcast signal on his car radio.  He got home as quickly as he could.

For days-it seemed like forever at the time-we felt aftershocks, and in more ways than one.  When we finally got back tv and radio signals, we saw pictures of the World Series (the first one in Bay Area history where the Giants played the A’s), and then the continuous showing of the one car driving over the Bay Bridge and falling thru it, since the bridge had collapsed.

The quake happened during commute hours, and when the bridge (as well as the Cypress Overpass-the main segway from the East Bay to the Bay Bridge) both collapsed, it was assumed that thousands would be dead from those two sites alone.  As it turned out, I don’t believe even 100 were injured–a miracle in itself.

Once we got over the initial shock of it all, we made a plan.  There was NO WAY that any of us (myself, my husband, and my son) were sleeping upstairs!

For over two weeks, we slept downstairs.  We cooked up lots of food in case we might have a large aftershock which could cause electrical outages.  We started putting water in every container we had, and we prayed.  Everyone prayed.

There were no more racial problems and no more enemies.  We were all victims of this act of nature, which left everyone feeling helpless.

Over the next few months, although the shock was still inside everyone, we began to relax.  We all tried to go back to a normal life.  I even went upstairs to shower, and upon opening the medicine cabinet, was faced with an avalanche of products.  In fact, every cabinet opened after the quake threw out a few cups, spices, or whatever they held.  I still have a picture that has a cracked glass because it reminds me of that day.

I was born in San Francisco, raised in Marin, and married in the East Bay.  I had experienced dozens of minor tremors, which I thought were all on the San Andreas fault.  Now, I found out just how many faults there were in California , and our town, San Leandro, was right on the Hayward fault line.  That fault has yet to set off any tremor or quake of any magnitude that could compare with Loma Prieta (which myself, like most people had never heard of), but rumors spread in this area regularly that ‘THE BIG ONE IS COMING”.

From my point of view, “THE BIG ONE” was already here, and it was a day and time that will live on in me forever…

By Mary Copeland

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I was fifteen and in the tenth grade at Aptos High when the earthquake hit. My house borders Nisene Marks up Trout Gulch and I was possibly the closest person to the epicenter of the quake. At the time I was eating cake and watching TV with a childhood friend. When the quake hit we didn’t realize how catastrophic it would be. My mother told us to get underneath something.  My friend Mark decided to hide under the glass table, which we frantically warned him was a bad idea. As the quake intensified the river rocks from the fireplace started to fall. The rocks which weighed 50-200 pounds crushed a table. At that moment my Mom said, “we’re going to die, we’re going to die.” The only other time she had done this was when we had been stuck in a tropical storm on a small sailboat. Panic set in. By the grace of God our house sustained and at first break we bolted outside. I still remember holding the plate with the cake on it and picking plaster from it as I watched our house from a distance shake from the after shocks.

By Andy Shatney

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