Posts Tagged ‘Loma Prieta earthquake’

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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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

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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 five and a Utah transplant when the “Big One” happened; needless to say, the events leading up to the earthquake are burned into my memory. At the time, I was visiting my grandmother in Salinas; my parents had divorced within the last year and I bounced between Salinas and Santa Cruz.

Even as a child, I could sense when things didn’t feel right. That day felt agonizingly slow for some reason; perhaps it was because our dogs were acting weird. Or maybe it was because our Indian Summer was coming to an end.

My mom was making dinner, and my brother and I were watching the World Series on TV. Right before the earthquake began, I looked down at this Mickey Mouse watch my mother had given me for safekeeping while she cooked. The watch stopped, and the house began swaying.

This was my first earthquake, I had no clue what to do. I got up and walked into the dining room. My mother grabbed my brother, and ran under the massive dinner table. I stood under the candelabra, shell shocked as my grandmother’s hutch began lurching towards me. My eyes moved from the ceiling to the moving furniture as I could hear my mother’s screams and ultimately, her arm looping around my waist to guide me under the table with her and my brother.

Thankfully, the only thing ruined in the house was my grandmother’s hutch. The concrete floor also had a nice sized crack in it. For a few days after, we had no power and running water. The Safeway by our house had a line around the building with folks trying to buy supplies with cash. A lot of people simply weren’t prepared; no one in our neighborhood had emergency kits.

My uncle came down from his home in the Santa Cruz mountains to stay with us; he said there were stories circulating about entire homes buried under a mudslide triggered by the earthquake. My aunt was coming back from the Bay Area that day, and told us about the Bay Bridge collapsing on people. Late into the night, the adults stayed up and talked around the fireplace about what we should do next. I curled into my blanket and fell asleep to the sound of their urgent voices.

After a few days, things slowly went back to normal. When the Loma Prieta television movie was released, we watched it and mused that it could have been a lot worse. My grandmother bought a huge box of canned goods and supplies for the next “Big One,” but we quickly ate through it when times got tough. We never replaced it after that.

As an adult, I know better. I know we should have an emergency kit, and have an emergency stash of cash. But we don’t; to my knowledge, none of my friends do either. It kind of scares me because I know this area is overdue for a major earthquake. And when it happens, it’s not like you can go up the street and get water with your debit card. So what are we all going to do when it does hit?

By Kathleen J. Smith

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This is the first part of a long set of notes on Loma Prieta and its immediate aftermath, sent in by Peter McKenna, set in S.F.’s Marina district, and split into seven parts on this blog (it’s similar to the eight-part earthquake collage Robert Sward, a poet in Santa Cruz, sent in a few years ago.) It begins:

You mosey along thinking this is kind of fun. School’s out, businesses closed, picnics and barbecues in the street, folks talking to strangers as if they were family – and then you see a headline. At Least 250 Dead.
The Earthquake of ’89 hit an area inhabited by over five million people, so that means fewer than one in ten thousand ate the big one. To continue with statistics, if they are a comfort to you, 250 is about the number of people killed every day in traffic accidents in the USA.
Then you see somebody’s house sitting in the middle of the street: well, actually you see only the top floor. It just slid off when the building took a lean toward Beach Street. Slip, slam, boom.
But it was only one building. A couple others caught fire, making an impressive pillar of smoke in the orange twilight sky, with the Goodyear Blimp riding above the scene, a silver spacecraft beside the billowing black column: the alien invasion at last.
The Quake gave impressive examples of its backhanded, casual exercises of might. Sidewalks buckled upward, exposing apexes of long unseen earth, fissures cracked the plaster faces of old buildings, giving them the look of classic paintings; brick facades shook loose, burying unlucky autos on the street, leaving piles of rubble on the sidewalk and exposing roughhewn wood in the construction.
But does it deserve the hyperbole, of, for example the Examiner headline Marina Devastated?
Not really. As usual, the reaction to the event is more impressive than the incident itself. The only other time you see so many cops and cameras at this hour is at a demonstration. That’s to be expected. What you’re not ready for is the cat evacuation. An SPCA truck arrives. Folks rush out of the devastation cradling nervous felines. The kitties are edgy, yes, but the owners are semi-hysterical.
And this heat: well, that’s just a coincidence, the quake hit during the October heat wave. But from now on you’ll have a hard time convincing the good people of San Francisco that Indian Summer is not Earthquake Weather (or that there’s no such thing in the first place). It’s that rare and lovely time of year when folks can sit out on the porch in shirtsleeves and say Hey to their neighbors as in a real American city. Now they’re all rappin’ with everybody: Where were you when the earth shook and the sky burned?
Picnics in Washington Square. Campers in Golden Gate Park. Tailgate parties in the Coit Tower parking lot, usually centered around a blaring car radio or a microscopic quartz-powered TV. Beer and pizza, wine and cheese, champagne even. Then the intense, earnest, keyed-up anchorwoman (this is the night she’s lived for) announces: We don’t have the exact figures yet, but it is estimated that as many as 200 people may have been killed in the collapse of Interstate 880 near Cypress Avenue in Oakland.
Then the joking stops, for the same reason that it started: we have become family. Thus we could joke and talk and thus do we feel the shock. A death in the family.
Clear the area! There’s another one down, a 3-story apartment building. It’s only got two stories now, squatting on a pile of rubble. White stucco, glass, lath, knotty pine 1×4. The roof curves upward, forming a ramp. The north side of the building has sheered away from its neighbor. Two people are buried in there, one of them nine months old. It all looks like a half-squashed hard boiled egg. Clear the area!
Comte Raphael Plato Galileo Edison Homer Wagner Euclid MARINA MIDDLE SCHOOL Watt Emerson Moses Milton Darwin Newton Pasteur Dante: all gaze from the escarpment in mute respect at the might of Mother Nature manifested in the Marina.
Clear the area! Clear the area! Blamp-blamp-blamp wheeeeee… The area encompassed by Fillmore and Divisadero, Chestnut and Marina has been declared a disaster area. If you are not performing essential services, if you are not a resident and can produce identification, you will be arrested if you remain. Clear the area!

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I recently talked with Bruce Jenkins, the longtime sports columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle, about baseball in the Bay Area in 1989. Of course that includes Loma Prieta, and here’s his response to my question about what the earthquake was like for him, at Candlestick Park:

I was in the upper deck, hanging out with some friends. I remember the ominous sound, the tremendous rumbling as the earthquake approached us. And as we rocked back and forth up there, we were pretty sure the whole place would come down. When it stopped, and everyone was alive in a stadium that had withstood the onslaught, there was tremendous cheering.

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Sultry was the best word to describe the few hot days before the earthquake. The air was like thick, warm Jell-O, making even the slightest task sticky and tiresome. I looked forward to finishing my last table at the Cooper House, punching out on the time clock, and heading up the mall to the Teacup, to watch the third game of the World Series.

Richard, the bartender that evening, greeted me with his usual blandness and fixed me up with a tall, ice-cold gin and tonic. I could tell he would’ve rather been someplace else, with someone else, a common mood of people like me who work in the service industry so I didn’t take it personally.

He turned on the television at my request, just in time to hear the national anthem blaring out from the screen. As the Giants and the A’s were coming out of the dugouts for their introductions, the TV screen went blank and my barstool began to shake. I got up and took a few steps toward the doorway to assume my usual earthquake pose, when suddenly the entire building lurched violently, knocking me to the floor. I managed to get to my feet and grabbed on to the partition wall that divides the entrance way and the bar.

“This is it! This is the Big One!” Those words rang like an alarm in my mind, and here I was in the exact place I always said I didn’t want to be if we had a major earthquake. The oldest building in town! I held onto as much of the wall as I could, burying my face, as I was thrust back and forth, three feet in each direction for what seemed an eternity. The terror of the moment struck me when I realized that if this went on for much longer, the building would surely cave in. I clamped my eyes shut and prayed to the Almighty to please not let me die.

I could hear the bottles and glasses, the TV, the Buddha and all the furniture falling and shattering around me. I could hear the cook trying to coax Richard back from the window, because the jump to the pavement below would break his neck, and I could hear the beams inside the walls cracking, the earth rumbling and turning to liquid below.

Thank God it finally stopped. Teacup owners Don and Lily Yee, the cook, Chan, the busboy, Chong, Richard and myself stood transfixed at the top of the stairs waiting for another big jolt, but gratefully none came. Shakily, arm in arm, we climbed down the steep stairs to the mall where I witnessed a scene from a bad dream.

The air was thick with white, brick dust. The wall between Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Co. and the book shop had completely caved in, trapping two people inside. Steve from the roasting company was frantically trying to get some help digging through the bricks to the trapped staff. Later, they were found dead. The ground was still moving, settling. I got the sensation that I was standing in a raft on water. A lot of the shops and cafes had broken windows. Hot water was pouring out the Bubble Bakery, and I could smell gas.

I walked down the street to the Cooper House. I saw my friend John Ballawager went up, and we gave each other a big hug, but neither of us got any comfort from it. A line of police showed up and began trying to move all the people off the mall because it wasn’t safe. I didn’t know at that point, but I had left my car keys on a desk in the basement of the Cooper House, and couldn’t get back into the Teacup or the Cooper House to find them. I spotted my boss from the Crepe Place, Gary Keeley, with Jay Paul standing outside looking at the crooked lines of bricks on the outside walls of the Cooper House. He offered me a ride as far as his house in Corralitos; he would let me borrow his pickup to drive the rest of the way home.

All along the slow ride home the magnitude of this disaster impressed me. For miles and miles, buildings and houses had jumped off their foundations. We had to take the surface streets because the overpasses on the highway might be unstable. We got as far as the Corralitos bridge and discovered that it had collapsed, so I jumped out and walked the rest of the way to Gary’s house while he took another route in the car. I found his wife Marlene sitting in their yard crying, their Victorian had slid off its foundation several feet.

When Gary arrived, he took a long look around then stoically handed me the keys to his pickup. We were all speechless. I guided the truck home carefully because there were no streetlights. I was relieved to see that my neighborhood had been spared any major damage and that my house was still standing. I found a note from my husband on the front door saying that he’d gone into town to look for me. I couldn’t get into the house, so I just sat in the pickup and listened to the news pouring in from all over the Bay Area. When Ron got home, he was so relieved to see me waiting on the front steps in the dark. He’d seen my car downtown and looked all around the mall for me and thought the worst. Later that night, Ron and I told each other our experiences by candlelight and realized just how lucky we were to be alive.

By Melodie Milhoan

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