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It was a very good evening on that October day. I was eagerly walking home from work in Hayward California, looking forward to watching my beloved Oakland A’s in the World Series. I was on a busy Boulevard just off of I-580 full of commuters heading home.

Passing a furniture store, I wondered why people were suddenly running outside. I got my answer when I saw something I had never seen before, the windows of the store were visibly shaking. So were the light poles surrounding me. It seemed to go on for almost a minute. I could already hear sirens in the distance.

I headed around the corner to my two story apartment building, relieved that it appeared undamaged. I lived right above the Hayward fault line, which turned out not to have been the cause of the quake. I spent the next 15 minutes sweeping up plates and glasses which had fallen out of my kitchen cabinets.

A rush of images swept over me as I turned on the TV, a section of the Bay Bridge collapsed, the World Series site in disarray, houses knocked off their foundations in San Francisco. This was bad. Then the aftershocks started. I went down to my apartment’s swimming pool where I spent the next 3 hours trying to collect my fears, and sorrows. They would continue for the next month. No one who went through this will ever forget those first few minutes and hours. I no longer think about it every day, but on this 24th anniversary, the thoughts and emotions of that day are here again. God keep those who are no longer here to remember.

By Jack Spencer

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I was 4 when I moved to California from New Jersey and we had only been in our home in Danville for a few months when the earthquake hit. I was in my room dancing around in my lambchops underwear (remember the commercials?) and everyone else in the family was downstairs watching the t.v. I can’t remember if the quake started small or large but I do remember a sudden sense of fear. Not that I would be hurt, but that someone would come looking for me and find me in my underwear. It was a terrifying and embarrassing first experience in California to say the least 🙂 .

By Caitlin Scanlon

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I live in the east bay but on October 17, 1989 I decided it would be a great day to visit my sister in Santa Cruz. Her daughter was going to turn 7 on October 19th and I thought it would be fun to go shopping with my sister and get her a birthday gift. I had 4 boys of my own. My husband had the day off from work so he agreed to watch the boys while I drove down to Santa Cruz to go shopping. I didn’t want to make things too hard for my husband so I took my youngest son with me. He was going to turn 3 that November. He was always happy and was easy to take places.

I picked up my sister at her house on the west side of Santa Cruz. I really wanted to go shopping downtown in all the interesting stores that only exist in Santa Cruz. She wanted to go to the Capitola Mall though, so I relented and we went to the mall. I didn’t get to visit my sister a lot but when I did I would normally stay until about 5 PM before I headed for home. On this day her daughter was in daycare and she had agreed to go and help out at the day care center at 3:30. I was vaguely annoyed about this because it didn’t leave us much time for shopping. We left the mall and I drove my sister back home and dropped her off at nearly 3:30.

I decided to head downtown and do a little shopping on my own. Downtown is where I wanted to go in the first place and it might be a while before I would have another chance. I liked to park around the corner and down two blocks from the Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company. I would have time to put my son in his stroller and walk up one side of the street and down the other and then maybe stop for juice and coffee at the Coffee Roasting Company. I was headed downtown and only a few blocks away when I turned around to look at my son. He had his head back, his mouth open and he was SOUND asleep. He was in the kind of sleep little kids go into where it’s a bad idea to wake them up and expect them to be happy about it. I was annoyed and could not decide whether to risk waking him or to just give up on my plans altogether. I really wanted to shop in the downtown area. At the last second I suddenly decided it was too much to ask of a tired 2 year old and I turned and got on the freeway and headed for home.

I had probably been home for 15 or 20 minutes at 5:04. My 4 year old son was in his bedroom in the back of the house having a nap. I thought the rest of them were all out in the front yard. I was in the kitchen doing dishes. The house began to creak terribly and I knew it was an earthquake. I closed the upper cabinet with the dishes but the cabinet door immediately swung back open and hit my hand. I took two steps toward the room where my son was sleeping but the house was shaking so violently now I could not walk and was hanging on to the edge of the sink. I realized I was not going to make it all the way back to his room and there was nothing I could do. I moved over and opened the door going out to the garage so I could stand in the doorway but the water heater was right on the other side and was shaking violently and then the door swung out and back and HIT me pretty hard hurting my arm. I closed the door and wedged myself into the corner of the kitchen by the door. I had a had time deciding if the earthquake had stopped or not. I felt like I was shaking inside and things were still moving. My ceiling fans in my living room were swinging back and forth.

At the worst it had felt like the house was really going to come down on me and my son and there was nothing I could do. Now, it stopped and I could not believe the dishes were still in the cabinets and the china cabinet had not fallen over, in fact, just about everything seemed ok. I rushed back to my son in the back bedroom to find him still sleeping but his aquarium was missing about 4 inches of water and the carpet was soaked. Everybody outside knew we had an earthquake but didn’t think it was as bad as it was. I was sure it must have been centered right under us! I turned on the TV but found we had no power. Then we had power but still no TV. Then within 30 minutes we did have TV and they were showing the Bay Bridge. When they said it was centered closer to Santa Cruz I began calling my sister. All I could get were recordings stating not to use the phone lines. Still, I wanted to know if my sister was OK.

News reports began to state Santa Cruz was the hardest hit and they had no info coming out of Santa Cruz and were flying over it with helicopters. I was very scared my sister and her family might have been hurt. I kept calling. About 10 PM I called again and suddenly she answered, “Hello?” I realized I could not talk but finally was able to say her name. She said “Oh hi, guess what? We had a big earthquake here and I don’t have any power!” I realized she had no idea the magnitude of this earthquake. I began to fill her in and told her to make sure she had batteries and water. It was weeks before we were able to visit my sister again. When we finally were able to go and see her we still had to take highway 9 to get there. Her house had some bad cracks inside and the chimney was cracked. It never did get fixed. She was renting the house.

I think about that day every time there are stories about earthquakes. I remember as clearly as if it were yesterday turning around and seeing my little son so sound asleep in the back seat. I wonder, what if he had been awake? How different that day would have been.

By Nancy in Fremont

P.S. Nancy adds this story about her sister and niece’s experience at day care:

She went to work at the day care place at 3:30 in Santa Cruz.  She was still there at 5:04.   She was outside at recess with all the kids.  Her daughter, who was going to turn 7 on the 19th, was alone in one of the classrooms.   Her daughter was a bit of a problem child and had made a mess in the book area of the classroom.   The teacher in her room told her she could not come outside until she cleaned it up.   She was cleaning it up when the earthquake started.  I think the little book area was in a corner of the room.   There was a 3 or 4 foot tall book shelf on one wall and a mirror on the other.   The mirror and possibly the windows broke and the book shelf fell over on top of my niece.   My sister ran to look for her as soon as the earthquake was over and when she ran into the classroom there was her daughter with books on top of her and things broken around her.   She was ok but she was crying and said “Mommy!   I DID NOT do this!!”

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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-
punched.

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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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

Parker-Fedak

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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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I remember it as if it were yesterday.

During Loma Prieta earthquake I was in Oakland by Grand Lake Theater, in a drug store (on a corner). I remember looking at cards in the store. And seeing the pole outside the store move and a little rumbling of the floor.

Several of the customers along with me looked out the window at the pole (as if were were looking for a big truck or bus to come down the street). Then I thought okay if it is a bus or a big truck what is making the pole move, and ground shake?

By that time the lights were out but i really didn’t register it because I still went to register to pay for what I was getting. Even the clerk was beginning to rings things up and then we laughed. And I said oh yeh the lights are out the register won’t be working.

By then we realized it was an earthquake. An aftershock came and 3 of us headed for the frame under the doorway.

When it stopped we went outside, and it was so quiet you heard only people scurrying around. In phone booths, in other storeways people talking, no radios no tv’s no music anywhere.

You could hear people walking. I looked up and thought it is 5:00pm the game is going and the bridge is packed.

I thought of a older lady I knew that lived not far from were I was near 25th Street in Oakland.

There was smoke comming from the bay bridge, could see anything where I was from. But as I was driving.There were no street lights people were being courteous. There was an terrible smell.

At some point I could see Loma Prieta collaped. I believe I drove down San Pablo to the elderly ladies home.

When I got there she was a little shaken up. Apologizing for the mess (she always keep her little duplex tidy.) The china cabinet was open, the living room was not in order, but not as bad as it could have been. She said that she was so glad that I had come. I stayed with her for a while, and helped her pick up.
As I headed to home to Richmond, I thought about my brother and sister that both worked in San Francisco.
I had cousins that were coming off the bridge. On the Oakland side. later found all to be fine. I have a cousin in SF my brother went there and my sister was on bart.

One of my cousins said that as they crossed the bridge they heard a lound noise and saw the dust from when the bridge broke, he said the bus just keep going. They just missed it within seconds.

When I got home to Richmond I was so glad to be there.
Day after day you would hear of people who had friends and family members that was on Bay Bridge and on the Loma Prieta span of the highway, by the projects.

I stayed glued to the TV, watching people calling out from the wreckage, people that know one could get to. And some that would be pulled out.

I was so glad to go to Bible Class that week (Church of Christ in Richmond.)

I remember one day after the initial quake I was going to oakland the fire was still smoldering. You could smell the blood, and death. Like nothing I ever seen or known before.

God is real, Jesus is too and the Holy Spirit is too.

It took me about a year or two to go over the bridge. I still don’t like to go over it.

Vernita Coats

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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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Story

Before
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.

During
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.

Aftermath
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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