Archive for June, 2009

The details are clear and banal as they should be when you’re twelve years old. I was living in the far East Contra Costa county. I was playing Nintendo while waiting for the start of the third Bay Bay Bridge World Series game. I was transfixed, on the floor, on my knees when I felt the ground undulating under me. My first (unwise) reaction was to leap up and try to steady the bookcase holding the entertainment center from falling over. Then it stopped. I ran through the kitchen, past my mother who was crossing herself uncontrollably.

Outside, neighborhood kids were already gathering in groups up and down the street breathlessly recounting the events of just a few minutes ago. About the kid who jumped off his bike and hugged a tree until it was over. About the some other kid who had peed his pants. There was an interval of several weeks when I huddled with my older sisters in front of the newscasts about the sheer scope of the destruction, of the uprooted lives, and I wondered half heartedly how was it I saw nothing of the sort where I lived in spite of our proximity to the City.

It faded somewhat from my consciousness until I was in high school. I was in the quad having some debate about baseball. I just remember making some awful offhanded remark about the “stupid little quake ruining the A’s legacy.” A girl I’d never talked to before or since sprang up and stormed out of her seat with such a hateful look I was frozen and silent until she was far enough away for someone to murmur that some “aunt or something had died in the City during the Quake.” Her glare lingered after that and I made it a point to read stories about the people who lost something, everything in the quake.

I’ve gotten older and as a result my social circle has expanded and I’ve actually gotten to know people touched directly by the Loma Prieta Quake. And as unnatural as it sounds, I’ve reminded myself to be thankful every single day. I’ve learned the World isn’t such a small place when you’re a child and its sheer size can insulate you from these acts of God for a time. But it can’t insulate you forever.

By Jim Mendoza

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I had just started a new job about a month before and was on my way home. I had waited FOREVER for a bus but the World Series was in progress so I figured that was what caused the delay. Finally I reached the TransBay Terminal. As I crossed over the expansion joints of the ramps to the buses, I heard what seemed like a train coming. Years of dust blew up from the joints. Life seemed to hold still…. But then we all boarded buses as usual…

When the bus reached Yerba Buena (YBI)/Treasure Island, the bus stopped and waited. At some point we all disembarked and the bus went back to the terminal. The passengers were left to their own devices. I met some people who said we could walk across the bridge. As a mother of an 8 year-old, I opted for that. But halfway across, we met people who said walking across was not possible. My next choice was to get to my mother’s house in the Noe Valley area of SF. I walked back to YBI and hitched a ride back to SF. The driver was running out of gas so his odds of finding a pump that worked were not good. I got out near my office but by that time everyone had left and the doors were closed. Being in a seedy neighborhood, things were getting a little rough (drinking, screaming, etc) so I walked to Market St. and continued walking west towards Castro St. I stopped at each pay phone to see if it worked. None did. Along Market Street, I saw civilians directing traffic and other people, in restaurants, continuing their meals as if nothing had happened. When I reached Market and Castro, I started hitching a ride (hey, I was 39 but I had grown up in the “summer of love”!). I got a ride from a woman to 26th and Noe. From that point I walked. But people were outside with flashlights helping me find my way. When I reached my mother’s house, we collapsed in each others’ arms. My mother was 76 and living alone. I was 39 and living with my husband and 8-yr old in Oakland. We worried about each other and about my daughter and my husband. After all that emotion was excised, I went around to her neighbors to see who had phone service (she did not). Someone up the street did and I was able to finally talk to my family and let them know I was OK and with “Grandma”. It was almost like a street party on that block – people out on the street talking to others – letting them know if they had phone service – letting them know if they needed any help (water? gas turned off?)

I slept at my mother’s – something I hadn’t done in 10 years…. The next day, my sister, who lived in West Portal – came over and after talking about the previous day’s events (her husband was a City inspector so was at the Marina most of the night)she drove me to 6th and Mission – that’s as far as we could go – so I could walk to the Ferry Building and catch the ferry to Oakland. When I saw my husband and daughter, I could not hug them enough!!

Lessons learned?; Always wear walking shoes to and from work. At this time, women were wearing tennis shoes to work; changing into high heels at the office. I don’t know if women still do this but I would strongly advise them to do this!!  Always have plans: A, B and maybe even C. If you can’t get home, try for a friend’s or relative’s. If that doesn’t work, try for some public venue like Civic Center. You need to take some risks: I HAD hitchhiked in my 20’s but I was close to 40. Get those “vibes” in tune again so you can trust whoever picks you up. Be assertive: ask people to use their phones if theirs work. Work together. (this was before cell phones were widely used. But in an emergency, most cell phones will not work) And most of all – plan ahead. Have phone numbers – out of state –  that can connect you to your family. If you have kids, make sure there is a plan for them! I met parents who split up so that, odds in their favor, one of them would reach their kids. Be brave. Keep thinking like a survivor.

In retrospect, I remember that once I disembarked the bus, I was “on my own”. This is the hard truth. One is on one’s own. That is why it is important to think about the options. I saw really important people flaking out at YBI  – needing someone to run out to get their cars – and other people rising to the occasion. I want to be the latter. It is by trial and error that one becomes the type of person who can survive and even be a hero in this type of event.

By Adrianne Borgia

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I turned over, burrowing in closer to my snoring husband. As I turned, my sneaker sole caught on the comforter that I had brought out from the house, and dragged it off my legs. I rolled back, too late, to correct my error, and struck the icy cold bare steel bed of my Dodge D-50. Swearing quietly, I plucked a couch cushion from the foot of my truck bed, and wedged it against the wall of my truck bed. I looked up into the cold night sky, at the dimly twinkling stars. It was a wonder that they were still there, untouched, after what we had been through that day.

Far off, down the canyon, some coyotes yowled up at the night sky. Just under my truck, my two Springer Spaniels yowled back. In some sort of weird canine communal language, they announced another aftershock.

“Hold on!” I hollered out to the others bivouacked in my front yard. The biggest quake of all of our lives, collectively, had hit that afternoon, at 5:04 p.m., lasting 15 eternal seconds. Frightened and needing to gather to share our fears, most of the residents of our little canyon, two of my sisters, (one with a newborn and a toddler) had struck an impromptu camp in front of my little house. For some odd reason, I still had a working phone. We had pulled it out onto the concrete front step, as far as it would go, in case someone was ringing us. Also, we had 15,000 gallons of water in a tank up the hill behind our house, and so we weren’t in too bad a shape. We had talked to our friend, Arn Parker, on the phone that afternoon, getting him home from San Jose via the town of Tracy, since Highway 17 had been closed due to rockslides from the quake. His cell phone had intermittent signal, and we were running CNN and KSBW and KSCO from batteries. We knew what was going on locally, and we could tell him how he might drive home.

The aftershock rolled through, causing my truck springs to squeak. Baby Alisha gave a little cry, and Clover and Watson, the two dogs, whined miserably. I looked over at the power poles that fed the forty horse power pump near my house, and wondered how much more strain the twanging wires could handle.

Unable to sleep, I hopped out of the makeshift bed in my truck, and walked over to use the outhouse on the edge of the raspberry field. As I walked back, I was astounded to hear my phone ringing.

I ran across the gopher-pocked grass, and got the phone on the fifth ring. It was my mother, calling all the way from Kalangadoo, Australia. She and my father had been enjoying a warm beer in a wayside pub, and had heard that we had endured a quake of 9.2 in our sunny central coast home.

“Are the beams down in my living room?” she asked.
“No, but if you had been enjoying your cocktail and reading your Pajaronian today, you would have been buried under the bricks from your fireplace.” I told her. Lori, my sister in law and I had jammed up to their house at the end of the road, shortly after the quake, to make sure the gas and water was off. We had stared in horror at my mother’s favorite chill out spot, buried under bricks, gray chunks of mortar, and bits of ceramic pots from her Philodendrons. If she had been on that couch, she would have been dead.

“Was it really a 9.2?” She asked, fear in her voice.
“No, honey, if it had been, I think we would have gone to hell with some of our meaner relatives. CNN and KSBW say that it’s probably about a 7.1, but they don’t know for sure. We are just supposed to brace for aftershocks, and hang on.”

Mom told me then that she had tried all the other kid’s numbers, and getting no one, had nearly panicked. By some miracle of wired telephone technology, she was able to get me right away, although with the time difference, she might have found all of us asleep. Fortunately for her comfort and security, the aftershocks had awakened all canines in the immediate vicinity, and therefore, none of us was sound asleep. I handed the phone to my sister Betsy, who had wandered over from where she had been sleeping in her Lincoln, parked next to my truck. She chatted with Mom a bit, since she was worried that Betsy’s mobile home would have split in two. Betsy assured her that her mobile home was quake braced tremendously, and had suffered little damage. Two plants, and a few glasses, that was all.

Our house, on the other hand, was a different story, as was Chris and Lori’s, and my mom and dad’s house. Our house was a mess. I had just given up on trying to finish a design plan on my Macintosh computer. I say given up because the day was so hot, and the room where I was working was so hot, that the Mac kept crashing. Three sad Macs in ten minutes, and I gave up.

I went into my kitchen, and put my soufflé in the oven—heated to 350 degrees, so that also helped the house temperature. I walked down to the end of our driveway, accompanied by my two Springers. I got my Pajaronian, and headed back up the driveway. I opened the door, walked in, flopped on my couch, unfurled the paper, then felt the whole house shift to the left. Wow. Then I looked up, to see my giant stitchery swaying on the wall. As if in slow motion, I watched my china cabinet flop open its doors, and the contents march out, crashing. Looking beyond it, my open shelves in the kitchen were marching my wedding china—(Wedgwood, service for 30!) onto the floor. I leapt up, and ran for the front door. As I ran, my bookcase disgorged its contents onto the floor, and I slipped on one of my flipped open photo albums, it’s slick pages sliding across the carpet. Pulling myself up from full, unintentional splits, I raced out the front door, just in time for all the gravel from my tar and gravel roof to shimmy down the back of my neck, into my shirt, which was tucked into my pants. I shoved the dogs back from the house with my knees, yelling at them to get out of my way. They were desperate to try to get “in” to the house. I was desperate to get “out” of there as quickly as possible.

I ran down the steps out into the center of the oval lawn, and was greeted by my neighbor, Tom Halderman. He was pointing excitedly at the grass, and saying “Look, can you believe it, it’s amazing, total liquefaction!” I got that loud and clear. Our entire canyon floor was an old creek bed, mostly sand, and not very stable at all.

I pulled my shirt tail out of my pants, and about 8 pounds of gravel fell down around my feet.

“Why would you have gravel inside your shirt?” Tom asked me, looking at me in a very strange way.

“I always keep it there!” I quipped. The quake seemed to have passed, but the power lines above us were still thwacking back and forth.

“How big do you think that was? “ I asked Tom. He is one of the most well read people I have ever met, and I fully expected him to know exactly what and where and when on almost anything.

“Well, San Francisco’s was an 8 point something, so this has to be pretty darn near that, I would say, but where it was epicentered, well, I just don’t even know. Gotta go!” he said, sprinting for his house.

“Where you going?” I asked fearfully, thinking, where is my family? Don’t leave me here alone! I had watched my grandma have a stroke after a big quake in 1967, and I was scared enough to have one too, right then.

“Well, I reckon that there have to be some pretty hurt people out there, so I suppose I will just jam down to the Watsonville Hospital, and help’em out.”

Tom was a paramedic, studying to become a physician’s assistant at that time, so it was only natural that he would step up medically after a natural disaster. Later I found out that he had been the one to pull Clint Rider from the pile of apple bins that had fallen from the side of Rider’s packing shed where they had been stacked. I seem to remember Clint’s leg had been broken in three places as a result. When Tom came home three days later, he told me of doing an appendectomy on the helicopter pad, and when a chopper came in, pulling the surgical drape over the wound, so decorative bark from the landscaping wouldn’t fly into the wound. Odd humor, but possible, after all. Tom had done this many times, during his surgical duty in Viet Nam.

“Do you think I should go back in and shut off my oven?” I asked him, thinking of the ruined soufflé, and the ruined kitchen.

“Yep, not a bad idea, that one. Power is probably out already though. “ he said, and went into his house, retrieving his keys, and his ready bag. He climbed into his Toyota 4 Runner, and cruised on down the driveway, leaving me alone and scared.

Not two minutes later, Lori, my sister in law, came thundering in my yard, in her totally cool old Volkswagen bus. She clutched the engine, cut the key, and hopped out.

“Jesus H. Christ! Are you okay? Can you believe this?!” She said, storming around the grass, lit cigarette making smoke curls as she gestured wildly with her hands. “My fish aquarium is history, the bookcase is toast, my woodstove, my fireplace, holy crap, what a mess! What the hell do you think happened?”

Just then, Kelly, my little sister arrived, bawling her eyes out. She lived across the canyon from a senior citizen’s mobile home park, and had just witnessed three homes exploding into flames right as she looked out her window. Her baby boy, Jamesie, had narrowly escaped injury as a result of some object falling into his crib. She, too, was alone and shaking—nearly in shock. Baby Alisha hopped out onto the grass, clutching her oatmeal can full of “guys” little rubber Sesame Street™ figures. She was rather unfazed, it seemed. We all stood there, circling around, wondering what would happen next.

By Marsha Marani, Aptos

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As with most narratives of this nature, my story is personal yet embedded in the larger experience all those in the Bay Area shared on that day.

Late in the afternoon I strode South through the middle of the UC Berkeley campus, nearing the end of my undergraduate years. Although raised mostly in California and then Hawaii, I had already lived in other places as well – France and a family move to Japan a few years earlier. My folks, though, had lived high atop Grizzly Peak Boulevard in Berkeley for quite a while when the Loma Prieta quake took place.

Walking out past Sproul plaza in an end-of-academic-day haze, I tried to decide whether to read for a few more hours in an open-aired loosely-beamed two story café across Bancroft from campus, or whether to throw in the towel entirely and play hooky at my folks’ house. I decided upon the latter.

I was on the upper floor of my folks’ house, with a view of the Bay and San Francisco when the quake struck. With the first tremors I moved into the threshold between the dining room and open kitchen, hoping that the shifts would, as usual, quickly subside. As the shifting intensified, I realized that this was no “normal” quake. Just to the left of my left shoulder, on the southern wall of the dining room, the huge and heavy armoire began to tilt, and I attempted with my left arm to keep it up against the wall, preventing it from falling. At about this point I shouted something – I fail to remember precisely what – to my mother who was in her lower level office – I knew she was okay – but we were still shaking. Then, turning my gaze toward the Northern end of the living room I could both see and literally feel the earth moving under the house in waves…the entire floor was lifting and falling in a northward wave…just as though I were lying on a surfboard or boogie board…For me, this was the moment that separated the experience of that quake from all the previous ones I have endured. The earth shook, but the earth literally moved in wavelike motions of which one learns in earth science, but rarely does one have the opportunity to watch a building move as though the floor had suddenly been rendered fluid.

Our phone rang. Unlike most other folks who were unable to connect with Bay Area loved ones for many hours, my father in San Diego had just tuned into the World Series, saw the quake, and called my mother in quick succession. In shock, then I watched on the small screen television in the kitchen as the live streaming video began to document and thus almost triage the damage hotspots around the Bay. One of those was the collapse of the freeway in Oakland, with many people and automobiles crushed or held in small air pockets as one layer of freeway had literally collapsed onto the layer directly below. Then, we were shown the damage to the Bay Bridge, which had broken. At this point the Bay Area became a surreal vista as seen from the ridge top house in Berkeley. Fires in the Marina from collapsed apartment buildings were plainly evident from my living room window…making the skyline of San Francisco look more like a war zone than a city. Slowly adjusting to this new reality, I knew that it would be days and years before we could fully comprehend, address, and make the needed repairs and re-structurings to rebuild and then prevent this kind of devastation again. We cannot prevent quakes, but we can do our best to bolt the foundations of older homes, and corporate/institutional structures, and prepare ourselves. Each of us will be called upon, again, to take care of family and of community.

By Allison Addicott

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