In Downtown San Francisco

It’s hard to believe this month will be the 25th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake. But the proof is in my baby girl about to celebrate her 26th birthday:) It was just another Tuesday, and I ran down the escalator to catch the 5:00 p.m. train home to get home to feed my new baby. Down the stairs at the Embarcadero Bart station ticket in hand like a thousand days before, but missed the train. A few minutes later, the ground shook violently and as I looked around at the people around me I realized we were having an earthquake and it was bad. The lights went out momentarily and people screamed, then they flickered back on and people began to run. I hesitated, afraid of a stampede up the now still escalator, then joined the crowd as the Embarcadero station sign waved crazily above me.

It was over quickly, but when we came up to the light people were running around dazed. I didn’t know what to do and headed back to my office where I encountered several shaken colleagues who told me they had been on the 25th floor and swayed several feet. The bridge and BART were closed and phones were down (no cells yet); we spent the next several hours in the Mandarin Hotel Lobby huddled in fear (but drinking free wine:). Finally phone lines became available and we were able to let our families know we were okay. Eventually BART was declared safe and I got on the first train around 3 or 4 a.m. to get back to Concord. People were saying the Bay Bridge had collapsed. I was scared but wanted to get home. I spent the next few days watching the surreal news clips showing some of the horrific things that had happened. It seemed it could have been so much worse and I was thankful to be alive and well.

When I got the courage to return to work the following Monday, the nice doorman whom I chatted with daily told me his son was still missing and assumed dead in the Oakland freeway collapse, and it hit me that even though the death toll was “low” people had lost their friends and families, and I was heartbroken for them. I was afraid for a long time, but we humans are so amazing, in time I stopped thinking about it. Until, a few years later I was at Universal Studios and happened upon a ride – an EQ simulation. Against my better judgment, I entered. When the ground started shaking and the phony “Embarcadero” sign waving, I started to cry and begged them to stop. I was embarrassed but my fear just bubbled back to the surface. I knew I didn’t want to work in SF any more at that time, and a few years later I ditched the corporate commute, and got a job right down the street – and lived happily ever after. It felt good to write this down!

By Sheila Hill, via this blog’s Facebook page


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


Loma Prieta

I was in Los Banos, playing volleyball, an away game freshman year.

The phone line went down and I couldn’t contact my family or friends from school. It was a long ride home hearing of the disaster and feeling the effects of the earthquake. I didn’t know if they would be there when we got back.

I’m from the Bay Area, we have earthquakes every day. This one was a noticeable disaster.

By S Blas

17th Avenue in Santa Cruz

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

’89 Quake Story

My father was a traveling man who worked for the airlines, and I pretty much blocked out a lot of incidents because it was a tough life. This story finally came back to me. It was a week before my 9th birthday, so this is a story from the eyes of a child, a little girl. My dad had just transferred to sfo and we just moved to San Jose.

My father was taking my older brother (10) and I out and my younger brother (3) was to stay home with my mom. As we headed for the front door I remember glancing at the tv while the world series was on. Suddenly the channel flickered off and on, and that’s when I felt a strange rattling beneath my feet. I had never felt an earthquake.

I ran from the doorway back in the house and my dad grabbed my older brother to run outside. I remember him yelling at me to follow but I was frozen and too terrified to go out there. I couldn’t imagine what was out there causing this shaking, and I stood there crying. My mom ran under a table, ignorant about what to do. It was a glass table and my dad yelled for her to get her and my baby brother out of there. I was the only one without a parent’s hand to hold, and I couldn’t be more confused, lost and terrified.

I felt torn about whether I should obey my dad’s commands to go outside, or stay safe inside. I could only see the fear in his eyes, and hear my mother’s screams. I pouted all alone. I kept falling to my knees, trying hard to stand and hold a wall or something. My older brother clung to my dad’s arm the entire time.

Then the shaking stopped, but I still felt the swaying. We all went outside, and after seeing the things falling inside the house I worried things would be falling outside too. The last thing I remember was seeing my neighbors standing outside looking at their damaged houses. Chimneys caved in, broken windows, and I kneeled on the floor and pressed my hands on the cement and felt the rocking back and forth. It felt as if I was the one pushing it. Then the fear jumped back inside me, and I tried to run up our steps to get away from the unstable ground.

By Andovena

I heard about Bob Welch’s death on June 10, and was prompted to look up the new closing chapter to his book, Five O’Clock Comes Early, which he wrote for its republication in 1991. Welch was scheduled to start for the Oakland A’s in game 3 of the World Series. However, he’d pulled a groin muscle during practice on the 16th. Late on the afternoon of the 17th, he was in the trainer’s room, getting his arm rubbed down and hoping his groin would hold out enough for him to make his start. Welch was thinking about and talking to his recently deceased mom, hoping she’d help him get through the game, when:

All of a sudden, the trainer’s room started swaying and shaking. A swirl of dust billowed out of the air vent. Things started clattering on the walls. I had never felt such misguided energy in my life, like the whole damn stadium was a rocket ship trying to take off. I heard somebody say, “Earthquake!”

I walked outside toward the parking lot, praying the walls and the ceiling would hold. It was the longest damn fifteen seconds you ever want to see. When the earthquake was over, I was thrilled to see that Candlestick Park, which is so ridiculed by everybody, had actually held together.

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