The following story is from Tom McDonald-Sawyer, who explains that it is “a letter I wrote to family and friends back home in Maine of my earthquake experience. On the first anniversary of the quake, the Santa Cruz Sentinel asked for people’s stories so I sent it in. For the week leading up to the actual anniversary date 10/17/1990, they printed pages of what folks sent in. I kept looking for my story. . . . On the anniversary day itself, I opened up the paper and found my picture and my story took up the whole page.”
Here it is:
Tuesday, October 17, 1989:
I got out of work at 5:00 P.M. as usual. I ran down to the bus stop to catch a ride in to the downtown Santa Cruz Metro Center. There, I could get a bus to take me to Cabrillo College in Aptos. I had a class at 7:00.
An elderly man was waiting on the bench much as he does every day. I sat down on the opposite end and bent over my wallet to take out my bus pass. It was at that moment while looking downward that I felt the Earth rumble through my feet. I thought a large truck was passing by. I looked up as I put my pass in my shirt pocket. There was no truck in sight. A sharper shock jolted me to my feet. I spun around and grabbed the bench to keep from being thrown to the ground. A deafening roar assaulted my ears.
The intensity didn’t diminish. I turned my head from side to side ready to jump out of the way of anything that might fall on me from above. The trees and the telephone pole next to the bench were doing a frantic dervish dance. A small blue house twelve feet from me was jiggling like a plate of Jell-O that’s been brusquely set on a table.
Directly in front of me was the parking lot to a Christian elementary school. There were three cars in it. Little four to six inch ripples were scurrying towards me in the asphalt. They were making the cars rock so violently I expected to see them leap into the air.
I couldn’t stop looking at them. A terrorizing moment of madness swept my mind. I said to myself, “This is it. This is the big one!” I fully expected to see the earth in front of me open up and swallow me whole.
They say it lasted about 15 seconds. It felt like an hour but it did finally stop.
I looked over at the old man. He was sitting perfectly still, staring directly in front of himself. I started telling him what I had seen. He told me how the power lines had whipped around and around as the poles dipped back and forth. A man about my age went by in a 4-wheel drive and let out a big whoop. I answered back a shrill release of my own.
The bus cruised to a stop in front of us. The door opened and the driver smiled out, “You’re still alive!” The older man hurried onto the bus. My legs were like rubber. It felt like the Earth wasn’t a solid mass beneath me.
The driver expressed concern about driving on the overpass that took us across Highway 17. We made it all right. Everyone that we stopped to pick up had wide open eyes. Some were totally silent while others related briefly an impression of their experience.
There was a large cloud of dust billowing eastward. I kept looking for its source. Spotting it I pointed and spoke out loud, “The dust is coming from those sand cliffs. A big chunk broke off.” Then, “The overhead door in that garage fell.” The driver mentioned his radio was out. (more…)