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Our home in the Santa Cruz Mountains, on October 17, 1989, was essentially, directly over the epicenter of the Loma Prieta earthquake; our home was destroyed, our daughter and I were seriously injured, requiring emergency room treatment and months of physical therapy. Following our flawed emergency plan: Get outside, away from the trees, my ex-husband tried to get us out of the house, throwing open the sliding glass door, near where we were eating dinner. He was thrown outside by the intense shaking, and disappeared from sight, not a man of small-stature; truly a nightmarish scene. Our 6 year-old son, was the only one who did the right thing and hung on to a table leg, doing what he had been taught in school. Our 8 year-old daughter was stranded in the kitchen, with the cabinets and refrigerator vomiting their contents onto her. She and I managed to save each other, as we struggled toward the door; while trying to get her outside, I unknowingly held on to the frame of the sliding glass door, where the glass had broken out, cutting my hand to shreds; she hit the frame of the door with her head, bouncing off the deck, cutting her head and sustaining a partial concussion. After prying our son from the table leg, a chair went flying into the wall, right where he had been hiding.

We lived at the end of a dead-end private road, and our neighbors rallied to our aid. One neighbor, a nurse, gave me an injection to keep me from going into shock, others drove us though rock slides and fissures in the roadway, to the emergency room. We all camped out together that night, caring for each other and providing support. My ex-husband suffered Post Traumatic Stress syndrome, not sleeping for over 2 months and having suicidal thoughts. He chose to go away, to a family Health Retreat, Wilbur Hot Springs to re-group; we were unsure when, or if, he would be able to return. The children and I had to move from our home, into town and learn how to be city-dwellers; their dad found peace and gratitude and returned shortly to see if we could rebuild our home. We were out of our house for a year and half; we focused on keeping the family together and re-creating a normal routine for our lives and finding humor where we could (like me sewing Halloween costumes that year and accidentally sewing the bandage on my hand to one them) while we waited on geology reports and we tallied up destroyed possessions for insurance claims. To this day, our family history can be described as ‘Before the Earthquake’ or ‘After’, the effect being so dramatic on our lives. Manicotti, earthquake weather, friends.

By Barbara Bernie (first posted on the blog’s Facebook page)

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I was raised in Bonny Doon, but living in San Francisco at the time and working down in Sunnyvale. That morning I got up and drove to work. On the way, I got into a small accident – actually scuffed a guys bumper in downtown SF by Market St. He was a lawyer and we exchanged info. Really, it was a small scuff and he said he would not mind if it was his car, but that the car belonged to his wife and that was a different story.

I was sitting in a cube in Santa Clara working on an early pre-Power PC Mac when the earthquake hit. Usually, I used to think they were somewhat fun, but this was different. I tried to move to a safer location, but the jolts were too strong, so I went under a puny desk. I remember laying on the ground looking at the walls just wave back and forth and then the duct work started falling down from above.

We all went outside and listened to the radio for a while. I recall one report saying the Bay Bridge fell down. Well, that certainly put a picture in my head. After about 30 minutes or so, we went back into the office and began to work again – all of a few minutes when an aftershock hit. I recall our VP of Engineering saying “I’m blowing this popcorn stand.” and he left. He ended up moving to SoCal to get away from quakes only to get hit by the Northridge.

I began to drive back to SF on side streets making my way to 280. I recall in Los Altos the strong smell of a broken gas line. I got up to 280 and along they way there was a separation of the roadway in the Los Altos area – the crack went across the entire freeway. Up around Crystal Springs there was a Standard Gas station that was open. I needed gas and filled up. I recall that being the only gas station I saw open from Sunnyvale to my place in San Francisco.

By the time, I hit Van Ness Ave. it was dark. I recall it being dark going up the street and all the street lights were out. I also recall soldiers, Navy, Army whatever different branches of service directing traffic in the middle of the intersections on Van Ness Ave. I made it to my apartment on Pine and Taylor. Pine St. I’m told has a gas line that supplies downtown SF. Our power was out for several days. It was really weird/scary walking around SF in the pitch dark. I recall cop cars driving around at night with the alley lights on lighting up the left and right of their cars. We heard that looting was going on down the street.

Many people in the apartment complex were in the building as they were home to watch the World Series. A few days earlier, there was a friend of mine who was going to bar tending school. He lived upstairs and had bought all this alcohol to practice making drinks. Well, apparently he began mixing cocktails for the complex and so when I arrived home it was like happy hour with a bunch of people who could not handle being without electricity. I on the other hand being raised in Bonny Doon am used to no electricity. So while others ate cold beans out of a can I fired up my Weber and took food out of the freezer to cook – Chicken Cordon Bleu. I also grilled some vegetables.

At the same time, I was trying to call my family in Santa Cruz. I had one of those huge cell phones, the phone had a cord that went to a giant battery in a bag. Circuits were busy, but I finally got ahold of my mom or grandparents after a day or so. My father was on business travel and in Denver he saw the news and thought it was an anniversary for another quake somewhere else. He realized finally that it was in Santa Cruz. His flight was routed to Reno where he called an offsite car rental agency. He was able to get the last car and drive to the Bay Area with his co-worker. As I recall, he drove down through Morgan Hill to get to Santa Cruz via some backwoods way.

Gratefully, the damage in Bonny Doon was very limited. My parents and friends have many stories about being in Santa Cruz. My mom was interviewed on CNN when they were getting ready to smash down the Cooper House – she thought they should have done more to try to save that building. They had a friend in Soquel that had major damage and they went to help them. The damage was extensive. One son of their friend cut a wire to a light bulb in their car port – after he cut the wire the car port fell – it was the only thing holding up the structure. I heard other stories of a toilet breaking off the bolts and flying over a bathtub and out the window. Another story of someone’s propane tank rolling down a hill for a very, very long way.

I had a cousin who was driving on the Bay Bridge when part of it collapsed. She ended up walking over to the East Bay side and making her way back home in Oakland.

I knew a woman who ended up dating a widower. His wife died in a fire in Marina District. He was with her at the time, but she was pinned and he could not get her out of the fire – tragic.

After the quake, I used to think a lot about “I don’t want to be in this specific spot in an earthquake.” It was somewhat a fear, that persisted for a good 2 years or so. I used to take the train into SF and there is a tunnel built I believe during the Civil War and it is made of brick with water that used to seep through. I did not like going through that tunnel for quite a long time. I also did not like being in the train with the closed freeway (280) above us. You would think more of your location.

Okay, now for the most unreal memory. My sister was involved in a “Christian” youth group. She invited me to go to this prayer service in Santa Cruz at this small little house. Anyways, people were praying for people and this kid who looked a little high, starts saying that he has sinned and committed. There was a group saying “Satan reveal yourself, Satan reveal yourself.” At the same time, I’m quietly and skeptically looking over this whole escapade. The next thing, the walls start shaking and I for a brief second think – Oh, My God – ye of little faith. Only to a second later realize that it was a very strong aftershock of the Loma Prieta. The group did not miss a beat and believed they accomplished their goal.

As for the attorney, I never heard from him. Perhaps, after the quake a scuffed bumper did not seem so bad.

By Sean Michael Conley

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The day started typically enough, the usual Indian summer type weather, warm, dry, clear skies. It was a day the whole Bay Area was looking forward to, because the World Series would be hosted by the two baseball teams of the Bay Area, the Giants & the A’s. The A’s would go on to sweep the Giants.

For me, it wasn’t about waiting to see the game, because I had to go to work at 7Up, 1027 Rosedale Ave, Capitola; after attending school at Cabrillo. I can remember when the quake first hit. It seemed in a sort of slow motion. The first thing I noticed was the initial shock & sound. I froze in my stance, at the entry way of the warehouse, first viewing the ground, as the waves moved through the ground, moving the dust in a uniform manner. I looked to the freeway, noticing all the cars stopping, presumably due to not knowing that there was a quake, but that something was wrong with their vehicles. I looked to the tree line, noticing the grove of eucalyptus shaking like pom-poms, but in a most violent way imaginable. The 7Up trucks, back from their deliveries & lined up for loading for the next day, were shaking in place. I looked up to the top of the warehouse, from the base where I was standing, watching it sway from a normal form, to a trapezoid numerous times. My boss was standing in his doorway, braced within the door frame, holding tight. As the quake was subsiding, I noticed a mobile home, in the park next door, had fallen from its foundation of metal stands. The only damage the warehouse suffered was a broken board in its roof structure & the raise door having two of its bolts broken.

As we were getting our sorts together & the three of us at the plant were putting ourselves together, we were still in a state of shock. The boss, who didn’t live that far away, needed to check in on his family & said he would return. The fellow coworker & I were working toward getting the product that had fallen moved away enough to stuff what delivery trucks we could get into the warehouse. It then dawned on me that a friend, who was a nanny, was playing with the family’s children in front of a large plate glass window, where I had left her when I dropped her off after school. I figured I should make the 3 mile drive back to their house, to see if they were alright. When I got there, the mother & the friend, the nanny, were cleaning up glass; not from the window, thankfully. I then drove back to the warehouse.

As we were finishing up with the warehouse, as I was back working with the coworker, the boss drove up & we hastily got the warehouse secured. We were asked to return the next day & shore things up in a better manner.

As I was driving back home, I could see the spot fires from the broken gas lines. At times, they could be heard breaking & the sound of high pressure gas escaping; the line could usually be turned off relatively quickly. At this time, there was no power, but within 24 hours, remarkably, power would be mostly restored. I had stopped about ½ mile from home, upon seeing a fire, smelling natural gas. There was a woman whom was standing outside, looking on. She was calm. I mentioned that she shouldn’t be around the gas & that is all one can do; get away from it. She wanted to stay there, at her home to battle the elements. All the traffic lights were out & the homeless were out in the intersections, directing traffic. As I arrived home, I was greeted by neighbors.

As I was talking to my neighbors, they asked me if I had been at my home yet. They were sharing with me their experiences of what to expect upon entering; it was more than I expected. Surprisingly, the stereo rack, with a system purchased in 1977, that I still have, even on this 25th year of the ’89 quake, was still intact. The only victim of the system was that a 70 pound reel to reel, fell on its reel side, but weighted down the base enough so it didn’t fall completely over. The reel to reel still hasn’t been the same though. The water dispenser & its 5 gallon glass carboy were broken, along with a plate. The only injury I would receive from the ordeal was a cut finger cleaning up the glass.

As the night had mostly kept in & I was exhausted from the activity, all I could do was to crawl into bed & fall to sleep; a deep sleep. I didn’t hear a thing that first night, after the quake. The following nights wouldn’t be escaping me so easily, or the next day.

By Jeff Mick

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Shawn Alan McCormick

I was working at Yellow Cab Co in downtown Santa Cruz when the earthquake hit. It seemed to go on forever. I was making sure all in my building were safe. I was checking in with all my drivers to make sure they were too. I had my husband go a few blocks away to pick up our two daughters and make sure they were safe. I then started trying to check in with my family. It was close to impossible to do that but I finally succeeded.

The only person I couldn’t get in contact with was my brother who at the time worked at The Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Co. I had heard that three people were trapped in the building. I walked across our parking lot to the fire department to see if I could get any info..only that three people were trapped. I knew in my heart one of them was my brother. He would have been trying to make sure we all were ok and accounted for but none of us had heard anything.

My mom and dad and husband and children were now with me at the Cab Co. I got a relief worker and we all left. We drove a few blocks to the back side of the Roasting Co and it was already very dark and so eerie downtown. When we arrived at the Roasting Co my mom and I walked up to a crowd all sitting on the ground hugging and crying. I said “Has anyone seen Shawn?” It got very quiet and the owner of the Coffee Roasting Co stood up along with her manager and asked who we were. I said his sister and mother. The owner said “I can’t do this” and started crying and the manager said he is at County. At the time there was a community hospital in town and we assumed that is what they were saying.

At this time everyone was looking at us crying…the manager said..no..the county morgue…I was stunned…numb…I knew I had to take care of my mother who now was hysterical crying and slumped over on the ground. The crowd was still there as they were waiting for Robin Ortiz…unfortunately she passed away also. Shawn’s girlfriend Brittany Marquez was also trapped but pulled to safety alive. The days that followed were surreal and heartbreaking.

SHAWN ALAN McCORMICK. BORN AUG 19TH 1968 DIED OCTOBER 17TH 1989. 21 years old.

Left behind
Mother … Ethel Harrison
Stepfather … James Harrison
Father … Roy B McCormick
Sisters … Melinda McCormick, Terri Griswold
Daughter … Amber McCormick

 

By Terri Griswold

 

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I was living on 17th Ave next to Live Oak Super at the time. Had a roommate I am still tight with now. It was a handy location for my job at West Marine, except by then we had done “The Big Move” to Watsonville. I had just gotten home from work. We were low on supplies. So I was literally already standing in our front doorway with my checkbook and my shopping list, as we were discussing ALL the stuff we needed, which at that time included booze and cigarettes (at the top of the priority list), I was young and knew everything by then haha.

As I found myself holding on to the door frame to avoid falling down, I watched the huge fish tank topple to the ground and “bounce” across the living room floor. And “smoke-like” stuff coming from the chimney. After the shaking stopped, I dashed to Live Oak Super for those mandatory supplies! Live Oak Super was owned by an Asian family of wonderful people back then. They didn’t speak any English, but had locked the doors and shook their heads, “no.” I could see the food was above ankle deep on the floor behind them, so I knew to leave without argument. Plus, I loved them there.

We sat up in the yard out back with no nothing (not even food, really). We ate some peanut butter and pulled the car into the back yard to play the radio for news. There was an eerie darkness soon in the horizon…

After talking and talking about how odd the quiet was, we went to our rooms for the night. Next day was a day off work, so I headed over to my Mom’s (where I now live) and saw she had friends and neighbors helping get her water heater put back, etc. then I headed over to Live Oak Super and explained somehow that I wanted to help the clean up. My roommate came with me. So they let us in and we proceeded to clear up the rotting frozen food and the broken glass and sauces.

Soon a line formed at the front of the store, full of locals needing supplies, with no idea if they had anything left. Since I spoke the same language as the people in line, I was assigned to take orders at the door (to avoid allowing people to climb atop of glass) and see what I could do with what we had left to sell. People wanted frozen dinners, TV guide magazine, all kinds of unnecessary and useless goods. So my job was evaluating them and helping each family decide what they truly needed. Powdered milk, canned goods that could be eaten safely, etc. This went on for 2 days before I had to return to work, and the store started to look like a store again, except no new deliveries yet. As I left that second evening, they thanked me and sent me home with some beer, cigarettes and some food. No charge. Very generous!

Now all these years later, I returned to this area and went to Live Oak Super, if only to see who remained of that family. They were long gone. I spoke with a cashier, who explained she and her husband had ALSO volunteered to help out at the store back then, and when the owners decided to retire and sell, they offered this couple the chance to buy the store. I have to say, the new family seems just as kind. They loved sharing their stories from that day/week/month/year.

It was a very rewarding experience to partake in such a thing. Going back to work was another story. I was head of the carpool that week to Watsonville. We were practically the only car on the buckled road (hwy 1). It was important to get our West Marine trucks on the roads to the stores, especially the Bay Area stores. Since we sold survival merchandise for boaters, batteries, etc, it was a panic situation… I had difficulty caring about work, sorry to say. But we got those trucks out as soon as we heard there were ways to actually GET to the stores. There were only 13 West Marine stores back then!

After 2 weeks without gas, I gave up trying to reach PG&E over the phone and made a big cardboard sign: WE NEED PG&E, and it worked. An employee of theirs saw the sign on his way home from a LONG SHIFT at work and checked our gas lines.

Very cool. Wish I knew his name… Good things happen when bad things happen sometimes. 🙂

By Laurie Otto

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Two Favorite Stories

I lived in Lompico only 12 miles from the epicenter, but I was not in town at the time. My two favorite stories go like this…

My neighbor tells me: “I was planting fence posts in the back yard when what sounded like a truck exploding went off under my feet. I started to run for the house (his wife being in there) and a fence post I had just planted seven feet away came over and knocked me out.” He woke up a couple of minutes later; 15 odd feet from where he had been standing.

A friend who worked at a bike shop in the Pleasure Point area told me this one.

“We were working like normal in the workshop when all of a sudden the owner came running out of the back yelling ‘IT’S GOING TO BE A BIG ONE!!!!’ and ran out into the street. We all looked at each other, shugged, and went back to work. Then the quake hit. Outside we had a line of beach cruisers on the sidewalk in front of the shop. A VW Beetle that was parked in front of the beach cruisers jumped into the air, landed on the bikes, and then jumped back into the street.

Submitted by Chris Wright, Ben Lomond

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On Highway One

Left Cabrillo College with 3 others to go to Mobo sushi (would have been my first time). On Highway One, where the Morrissey Exit sign is, our car took a jolt like blowing out a tire and we immediately stopped. I thought we were going to get rear-ended, but then I saw everyone else was stopped, and the exit sign was bouncing up and down. We made our way up to Mission St., because the woman who was driving wanted to go to her place. She rented the tippy-top attic space in one of the big houses there, and we all went up. There was a six-inch wide crack running thru the roof, letting the daylight in. Most of her stuff was intact, much to her relief.

Then she noticed a ceramic angel had fallen off the shelf and broke. “My mom made this for me when I was little,” she said. There was a rolled up piece of paper inside. Her mom had written a note. “One day this angel will break and you’ll find this note. I love you, mom.” Dated: October 17, 1972

By Scott Harmon

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