Archive for the ‘Earthquake Collage’ Category

Presented below is an epilogue for the Loma Prieta “Earthquake Collage” written by Robert Sward, a poet and novelist, from his work with students and faculty and staff at Cabrillo College. At the end, Mr. Sward provides information on his sources, a biography, and information on where this collage previously appeared. (Move back to Day 7, or on to the beginning of the collage.)

Famous facts about the earthquake
•    Length of time shaking was felt: 15 to 40 seconds
•    Length of time shaking reverberated in the Santa Cruz Mountains: Up to 6 minutes
•    Number of aftershocks over 3.0 magnitude: 90
•    Largest aftershock: 5.2 magnitude, 37 minutes after main quake
•    Number of calls to 911 in the first 24 hours after the quake: 1,400
•    Normal daily 911 volume: 260 calls
•    People killed in the quake in Santa Cruz County: 6
•    Chimneys dropped: approximately 5,000
•    Estimate of damage to businesses countywide: $84.9 million
•    Parking meter income lost in downtown Santa Cruz in first month after quake: $125,000
•    Estimate of golf course fees lost by the city in the first month: $200,000
•    Number of Pacific Garden Mall businesses operating in Phoenix Pavilion tents: 33
•    Percentage of roads which required repair: 60-80 percent
•    Days Highway 17 was closed to regular traffic: 33
•    Highway 17’s normal, average daily vehicle volume: 56,000
•    Highway 17’s vehicle volume the week of Nov. 13, while restrictions were imposed: 11,000
•    Dogs and cats reported missing after the quake: Nearly 1,000
•    Pets still missing a month later: 47 dogs, 158 cats
•    Epicenter’s coordinates: latitude 37 degrees and 2 minutes north, and longitude 121 degrees and 53 minutes west
•    Today’s odds against a major earthquake in the Bay Area: 10,950 to 1



Bay Area’s Biggest Quakes
Location is approximate epicenter
Year   Location         Magnitude
1836   Oakland              6.8
1838   San Francisco  7.0
1858   San Jose             6.1
1864   Gilroy                   5.9
1865   San Jose              6.3
1868   Oakland              6.8
1898   Sonoma              6.2
1906   San Francisco  8.3
1911   San Jose             6.6
1979   San Jose              5.9
1984   Morgan Hill       6.2
1989   Santa Cruz          7.1
Source: California Department of Conservation, Division of Mines and Geology

fault: a crack where a geological layer of one age or type adjoins another
p-wave: essentially a sound wave, it travels fast, doesn’t pack much energy, and is like a warning shot preceding the “shear wave,” the Main Event
shear wave: follows the p-wave and, shaking the ground both horizontally and vertically, does most of the damage
seismos: from the Greek ‘seismos,’ ‘shock’ and ‘thwaesho,’ ’fear’
San Andreas Fault: “the geological spine of California,” the San Andreas Fault extends from Cape Mendocino on the northern California coast to the Salton Sea in southeastern California, near the Mexican border


5:04 P.M., The Great Quake of 1989, Greg Beebe, et. al. (Santa Cruz: Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1989)

Earthshaking, Cabrillo College English classes, R. Sward (editor), December, 1989

Interviews, October, 1989–San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, San Jose Mercury News, Santa Cruz Sentinel, Time Magazine

Robert Sward is a Guggenheim Award winner who, with his life partner, Gloria K. Alford, is a long-time Santa Cruz County resident. He has taught at Cornell University, the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, UC Santa Cruz, and Cabrillo College, where he led classes in writing memoirs and life history. His “Earthquake Collage” evolved from work with Cabrillo College students, faculty and staff following the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Sward’s writing has appeared in numerous anthologies and been featured on National Public Radio’s Writers’ Almanac. His two most recent books, Collected Poems and God is in the Cracks, are now in their second printing.

Note: “Earthquake Collage” appeared earlier this year in both “Pathways to the Past, History Journal Number 6,” Museum of Art and History, Santa Cruz, with thanks to Joan Gilbert Martin, editor, and Santa Cruz Weekly, Oct. 14 – 21, 2009.


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Presented below is the seventh and final day of the Loma Prieta “Earthquake Collage” written by Robert Sward, a poet and novelist, from his work with students and faculty and staff at Cabrillo College. (Move back to Day 6, or on to the epilogue for the collage.)

Monday, October 23, Day 7

“ABC already has a TV movie in development about last week’s quake. ‘Instead of waiting for people to contact us,’ said a source at the network, ‘we have assigned a major Hollywood producer to decide how to approach the project, and what stories to tell.”

Quake Night Lead For ABC…

“ABC had excellent ratings for its live quake coverage last Tuesday–the quake, in fact, ranked as the 10th most-watched ‘program…’” –News Item

“The network news anchors, those high priests of doom without whose long-faced ministrations no disaster, war or upheaval is complete, winged in to the Left Coast to do stand-ups in the ruins for a couple of days and flew out again. Dan Rather wore combat fatigues as if reporting from the bush…”

–Jerry Carroll


Santa Clara geologist Jim Berland says, “tidal forces on Earth, the timing of geysers and frantic pets are clues to coming earthquakes. He calls it the three GG’s method–for gravity gradients, geyser gaps and gone gatos. Gato is Spanish for cat.”

–News Item



Before the shaking begins, cats and dogs run away, and blackbirds fly backwards.–Folkloric tradition

Beware stucco, beware faults; beware high-rise, beware freeway.
Beware Fremont, Oakland, Rodgers Creek, Hayward.
Get out your prayer book and start to pray.

The world is going to end. It may happen today.
Duck, cover and hold. Earthquake, earthquake, say the word.
Beware plaster, beware clay. Pack your bags and move away.

Beware landfills, beware malls. Beware cats that run away.
“Here it comes. Step over the sill, get out on the curb.
Get out your Bible and start to pray.”

’Save us, Andrew, Buddha, St. John the Divine… ’
Beware hot, dry weather and blackbirds
flying backwards. Loma Prieta, San Andreas, El Lay…

A neighbor racing down stairs in her negligee.
Crouch in a stairwell. Don’t be scared. Be prepared.
Stash band-aids and Tylenol. Do it now. Don’t delay.

San Jose is not okay. Pack your bags and move away.
Beware shake, beware shout. Follow the herd.
Beware stucco, beware faults; beware high-rise, beware freeway.
Get out your Bible and start to pray.



Inhale, exhale – contraction – rest ­
Dipping, bending, buckling, earth giving birth to the earth its crust snapping

Inhale, exhale – contraction – rest ­

Blink and it’s gone – blink and it’s rubble.

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Presented below is the sixth day of the Loma Prieta “Earthquake Collage” written by Robert Sward, a poet and novelist, from his work with students and faculty and staff at Cabrillo College. (Move on to Day 7, or back to Day 4 (there’s no Day 5).)

Sunday, October 22, Day 6

Wake G., and try to get out of bed, but the house is moving too much to go anywhere.

According to today’s San Francisco Examiner, there have been over 2,500 aftershocks or tremors since October 17. At times it feels as if Santa Cruz is in a war zone and we are under bombardment. With police, rescue workers and news people in helicopters flying low over our heads night and day, that feeling gets pretty intense… vibration from the helicopters causing further damage to chimneys, etc., weakened by the 7.1 quake.

My daughter calls from Miami… reassure her that “Yes, we’re okay,” fearing that, in the midst of conversation, another tremor will hit and I’ll have to break off the call–and worry her more.

“Listen, honey,” I say at last, “The world, it turns out, is still under construction.” * “Listen, Earth,” I say, “we had an agreement…” Earth with a crowbar still looting and pulling people out of their cars. Smack!


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Presented below is the fourth day of the Loma Prieta “Earthquake Collage” written by Robert Sward, a poet and novelist, from his work with students and faculty and staff at Cabrillo College. (Move on to Day 6 (there’s no day 5), or back to Day 3.)

Friday, October 20, Day 4

G., seeing that I’m depressed, asks, “What can we do to cheer you up?” “Let’s invite some friends over,” I say. “How about a professional comedian?” I don’t expect G. to do anything but laugh. Instead, she reaches for the phone and calls the only comedian we know. Swami Beyondananda (Steve Baerman) and his wife Trudy Lite are in town and accept.

As we sit down to eat I ask Swamiji to pronounce a blessing. “The beat goes on,” he begins. “Yes, we’re all Shakers, my friends… Let our only shaking now be from laughter.”

“What a relief it is to feel free to talk about, or not talk about, it,” says Trudy Lite, “to be with others who experienced it and not have to reassure them… as we have to reassure our friends and relatives that, ‘Yes, we’re okay,’ when we’re not so sure we are.”

G. and I would like Trudy and the Swami to stay in our “crumbling, toothpick city,” but the quake has spooked them… They’re probably going to move on, especially if they can’t trust… if the earth goes on defaulting. BOOM BOOM. A couple more aftershocks.

“Steve, if ananda means bliss or joy, what does Beyondananda mean?” I ask him. “First you go to bliss. It’s 500 yards beyond it,” he says.

Steve and Trudy are planning an earthquake benefit performance. Among the dance numbers to be performed: “I Feel the Earth Move Under My Feet”, “Shake Rattle and Roll,” “There’s a Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On,” “Shake it Up Baby,” and “Twist and Shout…”


“Cashing in on East Bay residents who are homebound because of the earthquake, hordes of San Francisco prostitutes have flocked to Oakland where business is booming.

“’The hookers in San Francisco can’t get enough work, so a lot of them have taken BART to Oakland,’ said Maggie, a 22-year-old prostitute who works regularly on San Pablo Avenue in the heart of Oakland’s red light district. ‘There’s bumper-to-bumper traffic over here and they want some of the action. We wish they would go home.’”

”…Sex goes on, even in a crisis. And Oakland is where it’s happening right now.’”


Post-Quake bumper stickers: “I Love Santa Cruz Despite Its Faults” “Shift Happens” “Restore Santa Cruz” “It’s All Our Fault”


At 5:04 PM on October 17 a family in Watsonville is watching a video of the Mexico City quake. Suddenly their house begins to shake and the shelves open and bottles and glasses fall onto the floor. The daughter cries, “Dad, it’s an earthquake.” “No, no, it’s just a movie,” says her father.


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Presented below is the third day of the Loma Prieta “Earthquake Collage” written by Robert Sward, a poet and novelist, from his work with students and faculty and staff at Cabrillo College. (Move on to Day 4, or back to Day 2.)

Thursday, October 19, Day 3

Theater director Wilma Marcus says at the moment the quake hit, a student was being video-taped as she sang these lines from the Carole King song, “…I feel the earth move under my feet…”

Later, re-playing the tape, W. saw the singer’s face contort as she was thrown about the room. Young singer clinging to support beam as video camera went dead.

B., another colleague, says all he wants to do is to play the cello.

Dinosaur Hatching Weather

The nights are dark and, apart from the occasional aftershock, siren and house shaking, silent. The days are hot. Blue sky and windblown clouds. Businesses and schools closed. People going around in bathing suits and shorts.

Bright, sunny, 90 degree weather… day after day. Before the Great Earthquake of 1906, there was also a hot spell, says the San Francisco Chronicle… just like now. Seismologists insist there’s no connection.

Indian summer before and after. “Too good to be true weather.” But this is California. Whatever the weather, it’s earthquake weather.


“California sits on the boundary between the Pacific and North American plates, which are moving with respect to each other at about two inches a year,” says seismologist Kate Hutton.

“…quakes happen because [the two] plates do not move smoothly along a fault line. They catch, like two pieces of sandpaper being rubbed against each other, and then suddenly slip…”


Confronted with evidence of a 7.1 earthquake, Mother Nature flutters her eyelashes and responds with a look of innocence, “Who, me?”

Normally near our house we see hummingbirds, hawks, robins, blue jays… Why is it that… have all the birds vanished?


Outside the Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company, where Shawn McCormick, 21, and Robin Ortiz, 22, died when a wall fell on them… Police have strung a yellow and black ribbon, “Scene of Crime–Stay Out…” This yellow and black tape, in fact, surrounds the entire downtown area.

An NBC television crew is rumored to be waiting for Vice President Dan Quayle to arrive. The Vice President of Disaster is coming to the scene of a Disaster.

Later, G. and I re-trace our steps thinking that Quayle, if he has in fact arrived, will by now have left. But he hasn’t even appeared. Next we learn that Gov. George Deukmejian will avoid a mob scene and detour to the demolished Warehouse Liquor Store on Soquel for a photo opportunity. A policeman says the Duke will appear for about 90 seconds, make no comment to anyone, and then leave. Dan Quayle or George Bush may or may not come with the Duke.  Quayle, Bush and the Duke apparently want to be seen “seeing” the disaster area so they can be seen later in the day on television seeing the disaster area.

Reporters trying to “place” Santa Cruz (California’s favorite seaside resort), attack guidebooks and the “World Almanac:”

•        California’s Holy Cross, so named by Father Serra in 1791, one of the padre’s twenty-one missions.

•        Situated along the coast off US Highway 1, seventy-four miles south of San Francisco.

•        Population 44,100, altitude twenty feet

•        Major industries: agriculture, tourism, manufacturing, food processing and high technology

•        Largest employer: UCSC with 4,400 employees

•        Home to the Joseph M. Long Marine Lab – ‘Visitors are greeted by an eighty-five-foot long skeleton of a blue whale.’

Hard data that will become part of that ‘roll of bad news flung at our doors each morning,’ as Charles Atkinson puts it.


TV: Bush, Leon Panetta and Mayor Mardi Wormhoudt tour the mall looking solid and normal. The buildings, on the other hand, look ghostly. I identify with the buildings.



No, it’s not the San Francisco Earthquake and it’s not the World Series Earthquake, but the Loma Prieta, in honor of a remote peak near the quake’s epicenter.

“…the Loma Prieta event occurred on a deeper fault, a dipping fault deep in the root… of the San Andreas system of faults and it was not the vertical strike-slip faulting that one would have guessed would occur…”

–News Item

It’s a Spanish name. Loma Prieta, the Earthquake of the Dark Hill. “Seismologists continued to argue about how high the quake climbed on the Richter scale. They would finally settle on 7.1. But on Thursday, they agreed on one thing: The quake was one of the five great natural disasters to occur this century in the United States.”

–News Item

San Andreas Fault. Saint Andrew. The saint of lost things. How did Saint Fault get his name?

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Presented below is the second day of the Loma Prieta “Earthquake Collage” written by Robert Sward, a poet and novelist, from his work with students and faculty and staff at Cabrillo College. (Move on to Day 3, or back to the first day.)

Wednesday, October 18, Day 2

“No sound is dissonant which tells of life.”– Coleridge

Garbage men arrive at 6 AM. Comforting: clashing, cursing, and banging of metal.

10 AM

We drive to Safeway, but the power’s out and the store–its doors opening, closing to admit one or two people at a time–is dark. Hundreds of people lined up waiting to enter…

Safeway’s concern:

a) How to protect itself against shoplifters;

b) How to ring up purchases without cash registers.

Wait in line at Ace Hardware for batteries… reading newspaper and sharing “Where were you?” stories.

“I opened the car door and jumped and started rolling down the hill with geraniums and wild flowers flying through the air,” a friend wept. “‘O God,’ I said, ‘I don’t want to be killed by flowers.’ And I saw him running towards me, Max, who eats the cat’s food, Max, the black and tan nipper at peoples’ heels, his raw, flea-bitten rump slightly out to one side. He jumped into my arms. ‘My sweet, noble, dancing prince,’ I crooned and began to cry, believing that’s how J. would find us, alone in the woods, Max in my arms.”

Hour later, store is out of batteries. G.’s friend, M., agrees to buy us canned food, coffee and cheese, which we’ll pick up later.

Check house for damage, clean up. POWER COMES BACK ON.

5.2 aftershock. A flow, or “outbreak,” some people call them, of aftershocks. “Well, better an aftershock than the thing all over again,” says my son. The quake and aftershocks give birth to “disaster-bred opportunities…” they set off an “avalanche of sales,” says the newspaper.


“According to Dave Steeves, chief county building inspector, Santa Cruz County floats on an island surrounded by seven major faults and is the most dangerous quake zone in the U.S.”

–News Item

“The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s top medical-disaster coordinator went on vacation, with his supervisor’s permission, the day after the earthquake struck California, FEMA officials acknowledged…”

“The departure of Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Brown before the extent of the casualties was known raises fresh questions about the agency’s management…”

–News Item


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On Sunday, soon after the Santa Cruz Sentinel published its article about this project, Robert Sward, a poet and novelist who’s taught at UC Santa Cruz, Cornell, and the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, wrote me about the “Earthquake Collage” he had put together after the Loma Prieta quake. At the time, he was teaching at Cabrillo College, and his work with students and faculty and staff produced the collage. It runs from October 17, 1989, through October 23, 1989. I thought it would be best to reproduce the collage here day by day, from November 17 through 23, as a way to capture some sense of the daily rhythm of Loma Prieta and its aftermath. All accompanying photos are by Robert Sward. Here is his introduction and the first installment of a week-long series (read all installments by clicking on the “Earthquake Collage” category, or just go on to day 2):

As its name implies, the following is a collage of impressions, recollections, news items, poetry, and facts regarding the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and its aftermath. Compiled shortly after the quake, this collage provides a series of images of what it was like to be in Santa Cruz at that time. The people quoted at the start are from Earthshaking, a series of remembrances by Robert Sward’s students of their earthquake experience.

“Eleven miles below the Santa Cruz Mountains the earth erupted with the destructive force of a thermonuclear bomb.”

–San Jose Mercury News

“…these pieces of crust, called plates, restlessly roam about, driven by plumes of molten rock that roil up from the planet’s superheated core.”

–TIME Oct. 30, 1989

“San Francisco’s East Bay Vivarium (America’s largest reptile shop) reports 800 escaped animals, including full-grown boa constrictors, pythons, etc., roaming their giant warehouse.”

–The San Francisco Chronicle

Rita: I pour a glass of Coke. The microwave goes beep beep beep, telling me my popcorn is done. Dancing to the beat of MTV, I approach the refrigerator when, to my amazement, the house begins to dance along with me. Wow! I think, it’s an earthquake and it’s getting bigger.

Erin: I’ve been scuba diving. Surfacing, I see the land move in waves three and four feet high, the sandstone cliff falling onto the beach, a mist or fog of some kind rising…

Coral: …the restaurant begins bobbing up and down. I slither to the floor, watch my salad dressing plop upside down in slow motion, catsup bottles falling off the counter, people yelping, the ceiling high windows flapping like flags in the breeze… the roof groaning…

Steve: The gym starts bouncing around like a trampoline. Iron weights begin flying off their racks like popcorn popping. Dumbbells are clinking together like jingle bells, like people smashing wine goblets. Weight machines swaying, mirrors rattling…

Cindy: It’s 90 degrees and my family is sitting around the living room in bathing suits. My little sister has just lost her tooth. She stands up as the earthquake strikes our house. Teetering from side to side, she says, “I lost a tooth. I hope the tooth fairy will remember me.” Then, with a worried look, she falls to the floor.

Stuart: I point my finger at the floor, which is threatening to collapse, and begin shouting, “Quiet. Shut up. Stop right now…” to gain a feeling of control. I have to repeat myself because the noise of the quake drowns me out. Pointing my finger and yelling for order–like I do at school–makes me laugh.

Robert: When the house begins to rumble and the mirrors shake, I zip up my fly and dive into the cupboard under the bathroom sink. Holding on to the cupboard doors, I shut my eyes and feel I’m on the Big Dipper or the Grizzly. “Man,” I say, “this is some ride!”

Cheryl: She clings tightly to me and keeps her eyes closed the entire time. Eventually we hear people talking and feel safe enough to venture out. Our ‘ride’ must remind her of how Dorothy felt in the Wizard of Oz, for as we come out from under the table and open the door, she asks: “Where did the house land, Mommy?”

Post Quake

Don: Afterwards, we get together in the backyard with our neighbors and break out a couple bottles of champagne. We eat oysters and caviar and a rack of lamb. During dessert–a delicious apricot and chocolate tart–there’s a heavy aftershock. No more good manners. We dive under the table.

Shelley: We explore downtown Santa Cruz. We see a sidewalk of broken glass, a street filled with jewels.



The 7.1 tremblor wasn’t the Big One.  In fact, people now refer to it as “The Pretty Big One.” The Pretty Big One killed 66 people, caused $7 billion in damages, destroyed downtown Santa Cruz, portions of San Francisco and Watsonville, scores of homes in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and left more than 10,000 people homeless.


Tuesday, October 17, 5:45 PM, Day 1

Sitting now in the stairwell–safest part of the house? – with G., four or five cushions around us, listening to SONY Walkman. No lights, no phone, just the Walkman and the aftershocks. A 5.0 tremor follows the 7.1. Nimitz Freeway collapse, “hundreds killed,” says the radio.

Earth in labor… tremors… The interval between contractions is diminishing while the contractions themselves increase in force. Or is it me? Call in gynecologist. “Doctor, doctor…” And what is the earth giving birth to?

Our hearts attack us. The earth attacks.

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