Posts Tagged ‘earthquake stories’

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. ūüôā

By Laurie Otto


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Loma Prieta

My husband had recently retired; we had sold our home and were temporarily renting a waterfront flat in Sausalito as we prepared to move to our new home in Mexico. I had just boxed up my grandma’s china, prior to auctioning the Welsh dresser where we’d displayed it. We were watching the World Series on TV when we felt the quake.

We’d both lived in the Bay Area for decades, and experienced many quakes. We knew this one was big. Our flat, which had survived the 1906 quake, swayed and creaked violently, and for a long time. Some pictures and objects fell. We made guesses about the strength and location of the epicenter. The TV went blank, and the power went off. Our cat freaked out, and we captured and cuddled her. We found a battery radio and turned on the news. One of the first things we heard was that “The Bay Bridge has collapsed.”

We had a clear view of the span from our deck: We could see it still standing. We got our binoculars, and then saw the collapsed lane. Soon, neighbors we did not know started wandering down the beach in front of the deck, and everyone was chatting excitedly.

We heard that the Marina district was on fire, but couldn’t see that part of the city from our place, so we walked down the block to the Sausalito
Boardwalk in front of what was then Sally Stanford’s restaurant. We could see the flames, and worried about a friend who lived there.

Since we were moving to a hot climate, we were already in the process of clearing out our closets. The next day, we filled up the car with warm bedding and warm clothes: I recall there were many drop off points for this type of donation. Because the Bay Bridge was closed, traffic in Marin was horrific. We felt grateful not to be commuting anymore. At first everyone was courteous on the roads and in public, but as the weeks progressed, people seemed to lose their patience with the congestion and inconvenience.

We felt many, many aftershocks; as boaters, we kind of got used to that, like rolling on the sea. A couple of weeks later we flew down to Mexico to oversee progress on our house; we stayed in a rented apartment that had twin beds. One morning I woke up on the floor: I had a vivid dream of an earthquake, and had literally bounced off the bed. I think I was so used to moving earth, my dream re-created it.

One of our former employees had been at Candlestick during the World Series game, but no one we knew was seriously impacted by the quake. We were extremely offended when people suggested we were moving away because of the quake. We were, after all, moving to the Hurricane Latitudes.

I have always remained happy to have been here to experience Loma Prieta, tragic as it was. I am among many who actively enjoy feeling the earth move, as we did this week at work. I feel resentful when there is a quake and I somehow don’t feel it, like the 6.2 today [January 9] in Eureka. I like to be reminded of the power of nature: Despite human depredation on our environment, there are some things we cannot change or predict.

By Jane Firstenfeld

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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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I had already picked up my daughter at her day care center and had gone in the late afternoon to get my son at his kindergarten class.

My son was the last student to be picked up.  His teacher and my kids and I were the only ones left in the classroom. As I spoke about something with Ms. Scott there came an unusual sound. It resembled a very powerful jet rumble. It stopped our conversation.

There is an aircraft corridor over us to the Monterey Peninsula airport so I think we both assumed it was just an enormous plane coming in…but the rumble became more powerful but not louder. It¬†“felt” stronger.

A few seconds after we heard the rumble the building began to shift and make creaking sounds. The ground also. We felt some irregular lifting, kind of a roll.¬† My son’s teacher and I instinctively grabbed my children and we ran outside of the building and onto a grass bluff far enough away so that if the building came down we would be clear of it.¬† We then threw ourselves down on the grass and tightly held on to each other.

It was a surreal sight and feeling.  I had been through several earthquakes in my life here but I never experienced one so long lasting and powerful.

The entire school building in front of us was swaying back and forth.¬† The oak tree canopies¬†near us were “swirling” in a seemingly illogical manner like the ground underneath them was being moved and shifted in jerks and their tops were vibrating in the same way. And you could hear the oak trees leaves rustling like someone was shaking a branch of these with great energy.

You could also hear¬†something that most of us will never hear in our lifetimes.¬†This was a¬†continuous muffled¬†land moving¬†roar.¬†A combination of trees shaking and dirt moving? Or maybe you feel this more than hear it. I’m not sure.

The earth-shaking event I was sitting on top of was sending breath taking waves of energy through me that were so incomprehensibly powerful that I was filled with a sense of fear, awe, vulnerability and fragileness that I had never imagined possible.   You felt so small and powerless and really believed that the physical world around you could be coming to a cataclysmic end!

Everything in your mental warehouse took on a different perspective. Your life, your childrens’ lives, your relationships to others and the society in which you lived.

While this great seismic shift was occurring people were stopping their cars in the street.¬† I remember a very expensive looking Mercedes Benz screeching to a halt and a well dressed woman driver jumped out¬†and almost hysterically¬†she screamed “Is this the big one?”¬† I yelled back “Yes!”

She flailed her arms and cried…”I’m moving from California and never coming back!”¬† She then jumped back in her car and roared off.

I was simply praying. Praying that the shaking would stop and we would be safe.

I also had brief thoughts about other places while the quake was happening.¬† I knew that the Monterey Peninsula (being on a slab of granite) was seldom the epicenter of larger quakes in this part of California.¬† I thought “if we are feeling this as powerful as we were here…someone else must be getting hit even harder!”

As I later learned that was the case with great damage and loss of life in the San Francisco Bay Area.  But even here we had many tilted telephone poles and cracked chimneys and home foundations and off-set porches and decks.

Being on top of a great earthquake is a life changing event.¬† The fear it creates in you is of a kind and magnitude that you can’t adequately describe in written words.¬† I suppose being close to a volcanic eruption would be worse.

One last view.  What I noticed during the quake was that everyone you came in contact with during the quake and throughout that evening and the next day seemed friendlier to you and others. It was as if you all went through an experience that made you feel like you could die at any instant. An experience that also made you realize how we are all just these small beings on a massive ball of unpredictably volatile dirt, water and fire.

Most everyone seemed to have this feeling¬†of commonality.¬† We were all the same again.¬† The false human created differences between us had temporarily disappeared.¬† Rich and poor, better or worse dressed, old and young, different ethnic background, better educated versus less….these lines of separation were simply erased!¬†¬† Everyone was reaching out to whoever was closest for shared comfort and hope.

In this way it was a religious experience.  A beautiful one really.

By Joe Bauer

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I had just finished work, waiting tables at Pizzeria Uno on Lombard Street in the Marina. As I walked, I suddenly felt as if I were climbing a hill; it was the wave passing under my feet. I saw a steel pole across the street sway like a baby tree, almost touching the sidewalk on each swing. People on the street were fairly calm. I learned later that the ground two blocks away had shifted much more. Fires were starting and homes were lost. I got on the bus and headed to my night class at the University of San Francisco, which, of course, was closed. So, I picked up some whiskey and walked back to my home in the Haight-Ashbury — standing steady in a part of the City built on bedrock, a part that had survived the more serious quake of 1906. Traffic lights were out in the Haight and Cole Valley but street lights came back quickly. What I most remember is the feeling of camaraderie. Bars were selling out their kegs and using up their ice, and neighbors partied with neighbors.

By Barbara Saunders

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