Posts Tagged ‘Marina Middle School’

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 was going to school at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, back when it was located at 19th and Ortega Streets. On the late afternoon of October 17th, I had stopped at a ‘mom and pop’ corner market at 19th and Ortega to pick up a bottle of grape juice and a small package of Sausolito cookies. The quake hit a few minutes after I left the store, while I was standing on a corner, waiting to cross the street. It knocked me over, so that my hands were touching the ground. I looked up, and saw a lady in a convertible at the stop sign next to me. Her car was rocking back and forth, and she had a terrified expression on her face. She seemed to be looking to me for an explanation. I looked across the street and saw houses swaying, and telephone wires twirling in circles, like jump ropes. Alarms went off everywhere.

Once it stopped, I started laughing hysterically – the way people do when they know that something life-altering has happened, and somehow they’ve managed to keep themselves in one piece. Nothing had collapsed in front of me, so I thought everything was okay. Still, on my way home, I kept encountering people in their front yards, unwilling to go back in their homes. One lady was sitting on her front steps, crying. I asked if she was okay, and she sobbed that everything in her house was shattered. Then I started to worry a bit, and I ran home. My roommate was out in his car listening to the radio, he said, because there was no power. I found a radio with batteries in the house, and we waited inside, listening to the radio, learning of the devastation. The sun went down, and the city was dark except for the fires in the Marina District. Occasionally, the power would come on for a few minutes, and we’d see a bit of television coverage – the Bay Bridge collapse, the Cypress Structure in ruins, and the Marina District in flames.

The next morning my roommate and I surveyed the neighborhoods in the Inner Sunset District, near our flat. It seemed that some blocks, like ours, had been lucky – a few things knocked down, and just a few cracks in the walls and the stucco. Every other block, it seemed, had been hit hard, with houses literally cracked in half, or knocked askew off their foundations. Down in the business section of the Inner Sunset, the shops had lost all their windows, and were all shuttered and closed. Later that day, I started to feel helpless just sitting at home, and decided to volunteer at a shelter in the Marina District, where newly homeless locals were sent. I took a bus down to the Marina District, which only got me so far, since the area was closed off to traffic. I walked the rest of the way, and even though I’d seen pictures in the morning paper and on the news, I was unprepared for what I saw. Seeing the ruins of the Marina took my breath away, and I had to stop and gather my emotions.

I spent the next few days at Marina Middle School, and I don’t remember any of it. It was all a blur. I only remember the fierce storm that kicked up when I had to leave to go back to school. It was like adding insult to injury. The rain poured and the winds howled, blowing over steel barricades. I remember that Geraldo Rivera was there right as I was leaving, and I was in a shot with him and a bunch of other volunteers. When I made it back to the Conservatory, soaking wet, there was an administrator at the door, checking people off as they arrived at school. Nobody could focus on school right away, but we tried. We all had different stories, and couldn’t stop telling them. It’s been 20 years, and I’m grateful to be able to tell my story again.

By Kathleen

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