Archive for October, 2009

I was in my late 20’s at the time of the earthquake and was walking home from my job at a cafe on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley with my incredibly fly girlfriend, Wendy. (Yes, young-ins, “fly” was briefly an adjective in the late 80’s and a good thing to be.) The quake hit when we were a few steps from the southeast corner of Haste and Ellsworth Streets. The thing that made that day otherwise noteworthy is that my feet had felt hot all day, so I decided to walk barefoot, which was the only time I’d ever done so in Berkeley.

The ground absolutely heaved and I couldn’t find the sky because instinct had kicked in and I had dropped to a four-point stance with one knee and hand on the ground to keep from being thrown down. Palm trees were slapping loudly against houses and the overhead (literally) electric lines were turning nearly circular paths like jump-ropes. That seemed like a bad thing — I remember one line arcing slightly where it spliced into a transformer — so I sprinted out into the intersection.

By that time the main action was over and Wendy and I just sort of gaped at each other and mumbled things like “wow”. She was no less impressed as a native than I was as a fairly recent import to the Bay Area. I decided to put my shoes on at that point fearing shards of glass, although I don’t recall seeing windows blown out of houses. And even though a fair number of car alarms were going off, I do recall there was also a certain sense of stillness as though all the creatures of the world were in psychic recuperation from being sucker-

We went and watched the police impound garage on Shattuck Avenue burn for a while, but decided to get home as news started being passed by word of mouth and from people with portable radios. We walked the rest of the way back to our place on MLK Way and the power was out when we got there. So we threw together a cold meal from whatever was in the refrigerator and waited for the juice to come back on. When we had TV again we more or less just sat there watching endless reports of tragedy, not saying much.

The other thing I recall is that the daily paper was exceptionally thin the following morning, perhaps only 16 pages or so. Certainly their printing and distribution had been affected like the rest of Bay Area life, but it seemed odd that such a slender publication would have to bear the weight so much bad news.

-S.F. Giangst


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I remember it as if it was yesterday. I remember when the shaking began, grabbing my Tonka truck and running out of the house trying to find a place to hide. As I was running I fell down to the ground. With my head in the grass and my ear pressed hard against the ground, I could hear the sound of what I thought was a giant worm gnawing his way towards me. I of course jumped up immediately and ran to the front of the house and out into the street where there was plenty of asphalt. I knew this would be a safer place because giant worms have a hard time boring their way through such a solid material.

Thinking the worst was over I looked back towards my house. I was in total shock at what I saw. The ground began to shake once again, and as it did, it began to crack and open up; and then the horror began. One of the larger worms that was after me had managed to slither its way through one of the large cracks in our front lawn and began gnawing on our house as if it was a Quiznos deli sandwich. I had to save my house and my other Tonka toys, so I jumped on the back of the worm and tried to break him like a wild bull. Unfortunately I had never ridden a wild bull before so I had absolutely no idea of what to do next. Then as suddenly as it began, the worm jerked his head back and looked at me from left to right: he was slowing down to a snails pace and stopped gnawing on our house. I had broken the worm! The worst was finally over.

Now that I had complete control over the worm, I pulled on his head and pushed it to the left then kicked him in both sides as we rode off to the nearest Red Cross shelter. From there it’s all just a blur.

By Buddy Burns (reposted from this blog’s Facebook page)

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I was going to school at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, back when it was located at 19th and Ortega Streets. On the late afternoon of October 17th, I had stopped at a ‘mom and pop’ corner market at 19th and Ortega to pick up a bottle of grape juice and a small package of Sausolito cookies. The quake hit a few minutes after I left the store, while I was standing on a corner, waiting to cross the street. It knocked me over, so that my hands were touching the ground. I looked up, and saw a lady in a convertible at the stop sign next to me. Her car was rocking back and forth, and she had a terrified expression on her face. She seemed to be looking to me for an explanation. I looked across the street and saw houses swaying, and telephone wires twirling in circles, like jump ropes. Alarms went off everywhere.

Once it stopped, I started laughing hysterically – the way people do when they know that something life-altering has happened, and somehow they’ve managed to keep themselves in one piece. Nothing had collapsed in front of me, so I thought everything was okay. Still, on my way home, I kept encountering people in their front yards, unwilling to go back in their homes. One lady was sitting on her front steps, crying. I asked if she was okay, and she sobbed that everything in her house was shattered. Then I started to worry a bit, and I ran home. My roommate was out in his car listening to the radio, he said, because there was no power. I found a radio with batteries in the house, and we waited inside, listening to the radio, learning of the devastation. The sun went down, and the city was dark except for the fires in the Marina District. Occasionally, the power would come on for a few minutes, and we’d see a bit of television coverage – the Bay Bridge collapse, the Cypress Structure in ruins, and the Marina District in flames.

The next morning my roommate and I surveyed the neighborhoods in the Inner Sunset District, near our flat. It seemed that some blocks, like ours, had been lucky – a few things knocked down, and just a few cracks in the walls and the stucco. Every other block, it seemed, had been hit hard, with houses literally cracked in half, or knocked askew off their foundations. Down in the business section of the Inner Sunset, the shops had lost all their windows, and were all shuttered and closed. Later that day, I started to feel helpless just sitting at home, and decided to volunteer at a shelter in the Marina District, where newly homeless locals were sent. I took a bus down to the Marina District, which only got me so far, since the area was closed off to traffic. I walked the rest of the way, and even though I’d seen pictures in the morning paper and on the news, I was unprepared for what I saw. Seeing the ruins of the Marina took my breath away, and I had to stop and gather my emotions.

I spent the next few days at Marina Middle School, and I don’t remember any of it. It was all a blur. I only remember the fierce storm that kicked up when I had to leave to go back to school. It was like adding insult to injury. The rain poured and the winds howled, blowing over steel barricades. I remember that Geraldo Rivera was there right as I was leaving, and I was in a shot with him and a bunch of other volunteers. When I made it back to the Conservatory, soaking wet, there was an administrator at the door, checking people off as they arrived at school. Nobody could focus on school right away, but we tried. We all had different stories, and couldn’t stop telling them. It’s been 20 years, and I’m grateful to be able to tell my story again.

By Kathleen

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My husband and I lived in Antioch and worked in San Leandro at the time. He picked me up from work at around 4: 53pm and we headed home. We went through Castro Valley and were making the turn from Castro Valley Blvd. onto Crow Canyon Rd. when we noticed a police car parked across the intersection. The officer was trying to get into his car and had one foot in and left arm on top of open door. He and his car were violently swaying from side to side, and up and down. We were wondering what he was doing when all of a sudden we felt like we had 4 flat tires as we straightened out from the turn and headed down Crow Canyon Rd. I said “something is going on” and turned on the radio.

That is when we heard the news about the quake. As we drove home through Danville, and all the towns along the way, we saw lots of people outside, and lots of dust! Didn’t see any real damage. We turned on the tv when we got home and were amazed over the damage! Our relatives from back east could not get through on the phones and were freaking out.

We did not go to work for a few days until all of the freeway overpasses were inspected. Our condo had some cracks in the outside stucco, but nothing else. Nothing even fell over inside!

By Linda Parker-Fedak


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A couple of months before the Big EQ I was fishing on the Delta and threw my line out and snagged a passing ski boat and skier.  I yelled to my wife to give me my fishing knife quick! I cut the line just before it ran out of string and probably would have snapped the rod and reel out of my hand and off to sea.  The fast moving fishing reel’s bale and screw flew everywhere and got lost.

At around 5 pm on Oct 17th I decided to work late at Jackson Street (ACP / Dial-One Corporation) and also called the fishing reel company in Los Angeles to order a new bale unit  I was telling the Rep about my catching a 5000 lb. “Chris Craft” when all of a sudden I felt the big one start and told the Rep “Oh sh*#, earthquake!, F#&$, gotta go!” (I hung up, He must have been the first in L.A. to know about our big quake up North!).

I first ran to the door of our work’s kitchen/coffee maker room, then followed others running wildly towards the 2nd floor conference room.  I got under the conference room’s door frame with another colleague (Grace G.) as our two story un-reinforced brick building danced around pretty forcibly.  It seemed to shake violently forever…

I got my personal stuff after the big shaker and walked towards the Embarcadero BART Station, which was by then closed off, then towards Mission St..  I saw many buildings on the way with their front sections broken off.  You could see right inside of the offices; chairs and file cabinets, but no people.  I found a payphone in an empty parking lot with a long line of people waiting their turn.  Most of them left because they didn’t know how it works during an emergency.  I finally got my turn and went off-hook for about four or five minutes before the “Switch” gave me a dialtone…Then I entered 0-1-and the number, and waited for another three minutes or so for a second tone to enter my calling card and pin number.  The Inter-State call to an out-of-State relative went through ok!

Afterwards, I walked back towards work on Jackson St. and the clerk at the old wine and liquor store (Davis St and Jackson St) said he grabbed a girl trying to run out towards the door just as the store’s big pane windows exploded glass inside…He saved her face if not her life..   I sat outside of work, across the street at MacAurther Park with many other people listening to AM Radio News and talking (many shaken up over the EQ hit).  I could see our building had shifted offset next to the restaurant’s building.  Later, our computer room’s back brick wall eventually had to be reinforced with large steel girders and tiedown guides to keep it safe and sane to work in… (We got bought out by MCI and eventually moved from that building a couple of years after the Big Quake.  There’s new restaurants and businesses in the building today…Oh Dear!).

I ended up stuck in The City that night with no money, just a useless ATM debit card.   I ended up spending the night at a couple’s house which was my work colleague’s  (Jason T.) “best man” at his wedding in years past. They lived on the other side of China Town.  We all stayed up and watched the Marina’s fire blazing glow most of the night…The rest of the city was blacken dark, with no electricity, anywhere!

The next morning Jason and I walked back towards the work place along Jackson Street and could see bricks from the three and four story un-reinforced brick buildings (mostly antique shops and such) had fallen out onto the sidewalks, but mostly out to the curb areas.  A brand new Camaro (or maybe it was a new Trans-Am?) convertible had brinks all inside it – Smashed-in car windows were seen everywhere.

I finally got a ride out of The City to my home in Pacheco the next day.  My wife was so happy to see me, with her own stories to tell… What a week of aftershocks and devastation!

I also have experienced the 1984 San Jose/Morgan Hill 6.2 Earthquake while working for Nortel-Danray as an on-site technician at National Semiconductor’s basement PBX room.. I have never seen so many ladies from a lab area run up and out of a building so fast in my life.  Pretty scary down in the basement…

And, during the 1971 San Fernando/Sylmar 6.6 earthquake my brother and I were sleeping in bunk beds at our childhood home in San Dimas when the room rocked violently, and we were 60 miles away…Had my share of Shakes and Quakes, thank you very much!

…When and Where’s the next big one gonna be?

By Robert H

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I was in Oakland during the Earthquake. I lived two blocks from the Cypress freeway and was literally probably the first person to scale the collapsed freeway to assist the injured and search for individuals under the pancaked freeway. I ran down the street moments after the quake hit, and ascended a ladder that was being put up against the freeway before it even settled. I could see the Marina burning from the deck of the freeway and crawled under about 12 sections of the freeway looking for survivors.

I found a couple, and helped one man pinned in his car by a enormous block of cement that pinned him in the front seat. I witnessed numerous dead bodies and crushed cars. There were two powerful aftershocks that hit while crawling on the freeway. I crawled over the freeway until it was dark and continued to assist when rescue teams finally arrived.

I no longer live in Oakland, but miss the community greatly. Two years after the earthquake I saved four homes in the Oakland fire with another man with three garden hoses from burning down including his home…I love the Bay Area….My home away from home…

By Lucas Kenna Mertes

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