Where were you when the Loma Prieta Quake Struck?

Damage in the Marina District, San Francisco

Damage in the Marina District, San Francisco

Today marks the anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake. 17 October 1989 started out as a day of hope and excitement. People were excited about the Bay Bridge Series between the A’s and the Giants. They got in their cards, sat down in a seat on a BART train, or waited for the bus to come.

The quake struck at 5:04 pm at the height of rush hour traffic. It measured 6.9 on the Richter Scale. It’s epicenter in the Santa Cruz mountains. The tremors were felt throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Damage could be found all over the region from Santa Cruz to Sacramento. The worst of it was when the Cypress Freeway Structure and a section of the Bay Bridge collapsed. In all 69 people died and 3,757 were injured. If it weren’t for folks leaving work early to watch the World Series, things might have been alot worse.

Do you remember where you were when the earthquake struck? I sure do. I remember being in a great mood as I left work. I couldn’t wait to get home as my niece, who was 2 years old, had spent the day with my Mom and she’d still be at the house when I got home. I also was thrilled that the A’s were playing the Giants and might have a chance to beat them.

I left the Fremont Library and walked towards the BART station. The sky seemed so still and it was a beautiful day. I was half way to the station when the earthquake hit. I remember watching the building ahead of me wavering against the sky. The ground rumbled and bounced and then it was over.

To be honest, it didn’t think it was all that big of a deal. Once it was over, I continued on my merry way. When I got to the BART nothing seemed out of the ordinary. They announced that there would be a delay as they checked the system. So me and half the Bay Area (or so it seems) sat in our seats on the trains and waited…and waited…and waited.

About a half hour later it became clear that those trains weren’t going anywhere. They finally announced that we should get off the trains. I still hadn’t realized the magnitude of the disaster. I was more irritated by the fact that I was stranded in Fremont and might not get home in time to see my niece–after all, she was my only niece at the time!

I went down to the lower deck of the station and tried to call home, but all the lines were jammed. So, without anything better to do, I walked back to work. It wasn’t until I got back to my section where everyone was watching TV, that I realized something big had happened. I saw images of the Cypress Structure and the Bay Bridge. I saw houses in San Francisco with garages underneath buckled. I heard that people were trapped in rubbled in Santa Cruz. I watched all this and I could not assimilate that the minor earthquake I had felt caused all this damage.

I eventually was able to get through on the phone and arranged for my brother to come get me. He had been driving home and never even felt the earthquake!

Back home, the electricity was out and we were informed not to use the gas until it was determined it was safe. So, we did our best rendition of a camp out and lit up the BBQ. I was bummed out that my niece was picked up right after the quake as her parents wanted her nearby.

I think it took me a couple hours in the darkness to start to process what had happened. It wasn’t until we got our power back later that night and we had the TV on that I realized we had just been through a major disaster.

The whole experience was surreal. I remember the next day feeling so weird. The authorities asked people to stay home and we did. It seemed that we did nothing for days but watch images on TV, hoping and praying for survivors. We waited to see if the much anticipated Bay Bridge Series would continue, and we couldn’t really careless if it did, but we knew that we must move forward.  At work, we added a donation can to our Halloween celebrations and sent the money to one of the small cities that experienced alot of damage.

I can still remember watching on TV as they pulled people out of the Cypress Structure, and prayed along as a group of friends in Santa Cruz called out the name of their friend who was trapped in a building and had not been found. There was the image of A’s and Giants player clinging to the fence around the stadium looking as shocked and out of place as the rest of us. There was the guy who was rescued from his car after several days of being trapped, only to die soon after.

I think the most enduring story was one of heroism in a place you wouldn’t expect to find it. The Cypress Freeway Structure boardered a bad neighborhood.  One of the houses faces the structure was a crack house. One guy heard the crash and rumble of the crumbling concrete. He was in that crack house. Without thinking, he grabbed a ladder and crawled into the collapsed structure. He then proceeded to pull people out without concern for his own safety. There is something about a disaster that brings out the best in people.

So, where were you when the earthquake struck? I know where I was and I doubt that I will ever forget the experience.

View photographs from the disaster

Data from the USGS pertaining to the Loma Prieta earthquake

Photographs of damage from the USGS

Remembering Loma Prieta (photos and stories from the Exploratorium)

(Photograph in the public domain. Courtesy of the USGS.)

Other bloggers have written about the Loma Prieta earthquake. Read their stories:
Footnote Maven: I Too Survived the Loma Prieta Earthquake

Destination: Austin Family: I Survived the Loma Prieta Earthquake

(This is a repost of my memories of the Loma Prieta earthquake)

 

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Comments

  1. Thank you for mentioning my article. It is something I will never forget. It was days before we got electricity.

    You and I were so close in time and so close in place.

    Glad we’re both here to tell about it.

    -fM

  2. I had been married for one year and was living in Vallejo. At the time it struck, I was standing with one foot on a ladder and the other on the toilet seat wallpapering my bathroom. My husband shouted to me and I was annoyed until I got down off the ladder, stood in the hallway door and watched the house twisting. Later we turned on the radio and got a shortwave station and heard a man in an airplane report that “the bridge had collapsed”. Of course we learned later that only part of it had done so, but still it was rather frightening.

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