Posts Tagged ‘San Francisco Bay Area history’

I was fifteen and in the tenth grade at Aptos High when the earthquake hit. My house borders Nisene Marks up Trout Gulch and I was possibly the closest person to the epicenter of the quake. At the time I was eating cake and watching TV with a childhood friend. When the quake hit we didn’t realize how catastrophic it would be. My mother told us to get underneath something.  My friend Mark decided to hide under the glass table, which we frantically warned him was a bad idea. As the quake intensified the river rocks from the fireplace started to fall. The rocks which weighed 50-200 pounds crushed a table. At that moment my Mom said, “we’re going to die, we’re going to die.” The only other time she had done this was when we had been stuck in a tropical storm on a small sailboat. Panic set in. By the grace of God our house sustained and at first break we bolted outside. I still remember holding the plate with the cake on it and picking plaster from it as I watched our house from a distance shake from the after shocks.

By Andy Shatney


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I was just five years old when the quake hit the Bay Area in 1989, and it is still my most vivid memory of my childhood. I lived with my parents and younger brother in the heart of South San Jose on a court that was more like a family. In those fourteen houses there were nearly twenty-five kids of all ages, and holidays like the Fourth of July meant block parties complete with neighbor-on-neighbor water fights (which the dads probably enjoyed more than the kids). We were a quiet and caring community and the Loma Prieta quake literally shook us at our foundation.

My family dynamic was always completely normal to me, probably because it was blatantly obvious we loved each other regardless of if we were together or not. My mom stayed at home with us kids, while my dad worked as a Field Engineer for a company that helped create computer circuit boards before the swell of the Silicon Valley. Because of the very small demand of machines in his company, my dad traveled across the western United States approximately two weeks out of every month. The rest of us became very independent and capable without him always being present, but his return was always an event, especially in a time when we were young enough to still get excited over a keychain from Seattle or a new pin from Texas to put with the rest of our collection on a baseball cap.

I couldn’t tell you what happened during any part of that day outside of the hours directly surrounding the earthquake, I was simply too young to remember anything else. But ten minutes before the quake my dad walked through the front door, a piece of navy blue soft-sided luggage in each hand which he set down just inside the doorway. As my brother and I clung to his legs, he gave my mom a quick kiss followed by his patented sigh (which is still the only way I can authentically mimic him in any regard) and probably a quip about what a mess the house was or how horrible and long the flight was. He retrieved his suitcase from where it sat while I grabbed the lighter garment bag and followed him into the master bedroom at the back of our L-shaped house, dragging the bag behind me across the brown carpet.

While my brother and I clambered onto the bed next to his luggage beginning the “Did you bring us anything” routine, he patiently unzipped his suitcase and began unpacking his perfectly folded dirty laundry (I did not genetically inherit either habit) and toiletry case. The coming-home ritual came to a grinding halt when the entire house began to shake unexpectedly.

I was ushered out of the room and a few feet down the hall to the bathroom doorway by my mom before I had a chance to think. When I turned to peer toward the room we just left, I saw my dad and brother standing in the doorway of the bedroom. I don’t remember being afraid or crying, in fact I don’t really remember being anything at all. And as soon as it started, it stopped. We paused as a family, and my parents cautiously awaited any aftershocks while we followed their lead and tried to look as cool and contained as they did. When the coast appeared clear, we ventured out of our safe havens to investigate what was left standing.

Somewhat to my and my brother’s disappointment, the only thing that wasn’t was a plant that had dribbled its contents a few inches across the living room floor. In search of trauma, we left the house to see how our neighbors fared. Our paces must have been similar as families because about when we were coming out of our house, so were all of our neighbors. Congregating in the middle of the street as we often did, we shared stories. In fourteen houses, a crystal vase was all that was lost according to their reports. As my best friend came out into the street, we shared concern for her playhouse where we spent much of our time. We both ran to her back gate, and although its roof peeked over the top of the front fence we still doubted her father’s craftsmanship of the small dwelling and did not stop running until we had both entered through its front door. Some plastic fruit was knocked off of the two-by-four supports we used as shelves, but the plastic table was still intact and the windows still swung open. Our haven would see another day.

It wasn’t until years later that I found out about the freeway collapse and heard stories about people at the baseball game. The literal and figurative magnitude of this earthquake was beyond my comprehension then, and because of the minimal damage in my direct world I didn’t think to inquire about anywhere else. Even though I was sure every car radio heard the same single station, the earthquake was contained in my memory as a personal, private event that only affected my neighborhood and my playhouse.

By Erica Penney

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Last fall, I heard Al Michaels on the radio talking about a bit what it was like for him as an ABC broadcaster at Candlestick on the 17th of October, 1989. He mentioned how he was doing the voiceover for a package of clips about the World Series when things started to rumble. He got out “I tell you what, we’re having an earth-” before the broadcast cut out. Still, not long after the quake ended, some of the Giants and A’s fans at Candlestick started chanting “Play Ball.” Apparently for a while, people there thought it was just a preliminary shake before the baseball game got going. But for me and my family in the South Bay, things were a little more urgent.

We were sitting at home in front of the TV, urgently anticipating the game, and when the earthquake started, it took a moment or two to realize what was happening. But then we stumbled to our feet, ran outside, through the already open sliding door, past the patio and into the backyard. It felt like the ground was pushing me up and out, basically roughhousing in a very insistent way: my brother bragged about his strength afterward when I said that at first I thought he was pushing me. The neighbor’s pool was making big waves, but had not cracked. We wandered back inside, maybe a little dazed, but not stunned, and the damage inside was limited to a fallen-down bookcase. The neighborhood also didn’t have much apparent damage.

That night we just watched the constant coverage of that one car disappearing over the top deck of the Bay Bridge, the burning Marina as seen from helicopters, and the Cypress collapse. I had recently gotten a poster from Chevron that showed two muscle-bound giants, representing the A’s and Giants, standing in the Bay astride the Bay Bridge as they pulled against each other in their struggle to seize the World Series pennant they both gripped. That night, the Bay Bridge was cracked, the Nimitz was destroyed, and thoughts of the World Series were on hold, to say the least.

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