Friday, October 17, 2014

Twenty five years later

October 17. That's just one of those days you remember. It was 25 years ago today that the Loma Prieta earthquake hit killing 60 people from Santa Cruz to Oakland. As sad as that is, it is remarkable that it didn't kill 6000. Part of the reason it wasn't worse, in my opinion, is that the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A's were just about to start Game 3 of the World Series and many people in the Bay Area were already at the game or in front of their television sets instead of on the collapsing Bay Bridge or Freeways.

The World Series was billed as the Battle of the Bay, but the series wasn't the big battle that week.

Steve and I were at the World Series. We had pretty good seats in section 10 of the lower deck of Candlestick Park, right between home plate and third base, under the overhang. The quake started and my first thought was that people were stamping their feet, but then I remembered I wasn't in bleachers at a high school game. The rolling started getting worse and we all knew.

For some reason I fixed my eyes on a cameraman who was in a temporary cage attached to the upper deck. It was in place just to accommodate additional cameras for the Series. That guy really got a ride. I watched him hold on to the sides of that cage with all his might, saw the fear in his eyes and wondered if he would fall.  He didn't.

The shaking stopped and there was a roar in the crowd. Atlee Hammaker, a pitcher for the Giants said, "That was the tide turning." (the Giants were down 2 games to none) For a few minutes there was a weird sort of jubilation, and then reality set in. I begged Steve to move out from under the overhang. He dismissed my concerns saying, "That's reinforced steel and concrete, it's not going anywhere."  Just then the television came back on and this picture was showing

I pointed to it and said, "Well, what's THAT made out of?" We moved. 

For a while everyone waited thinking for some reason that the "game would go on."  It did not and eventually we made our way to the parking lot.  I remember seeing people on car phones (pre cell phone days) but no one could get a line.  We found our car and started the long long trek home. 

Generally we could get back from Candlestick in about 20 minutes. Not that day. It took 90 minutes just to get out of the parking lot and another 90 to get home. I was freaking out because Eddie was 18 months old and in the care of my friend Anna (who rushed across town to get him after work, beating emergency vehicles, I believe). I couldn't reach her and had no idea if they were OK. Also I was about 6 weeks pregnant with Tim, so my emotional state was volatile.

As we sat in the car, we could see the smoke from the fire in the Marina District. It was a perfect day, weather wise, and the beauty of the Bay was haunting knowing the devastation that had happened. We listened to the disaster reporting on the radio and I marvelled that they were talking about US and we were fine. ("Us" being San Franciscans).  They kept saying "60,000 people at Candlestick Park and no one panicked," to which Steve would respond, "except Sally."  Hilarious.

We worked our way toward the Richmond District, which had not been mentioned once in the disaster reporting. I decided that was good news, there was nothing to report, but then I wondered if it was because the entire neighborhood was in the ocean and there was no one to report it. Not rational, I admit, but the fear was there. As we approached Anna's house I was quiet, not wanting to spill my irrational fears

The power was out everywhere, which is always unsettling. We were about three blocks away, crossing Geary Street when I saw the Blarney Stone, an Irish Bar then on 21st and Geary (now down the street) There were people crowded into the place lit only by candles. I decided that was a good sign. If people were out drinking, things couldn't be that bad.

We retrieved Eddie who was fine but miffed that Ann had taken the batteries out of his toy to put in her flashlight. (Everyone had to sacrifice.) He could talk some and told us about the "Big Shakes"

 When we arrived home we found my bother in law Jim on the front steps. He couldn't get home to Oakland and decided to walk to our house from downtown. He said he knew our house would be okay because Steve had bolted it to the foundation a month or so earlier. The house was fine. The fish tank sloshed over and one coffee cup fell off a rack, but we were fine.  Steve and Jim, knowing the power was out, did the logical thing; they ate the ice cream before it melted and drink the beer before it got warm. I went upstairs with Eddie and put on my Walkman radio to listen to the news.  

The lights came back on the next evening and we could see the horrible pictures on the television. We know how lucky we were.

 Eventually the Series resumed and we went back to the same seats. It seemed important to go back and show the world that we were still here and OK. The crowd sang "San Francisco" and everyone was into that. We sat next to the same guy as we had when the earthquake hit and in the playoffs before that, but they weren't as lucky as we were. The woman didn't come back as she lost everything in her apartment in the Marina. It was unbelievable. The crowd was much more subdued and the Giants lost in 4 straight. 

Freeways were rebuilt, bridges were fixed, houses were rebuilt, but everything changed. Before that I though earthquakes were just part of  San Francisco's Charm.  I don't think that anymore.

It would be fine with me if the next "big one" could hold off for another 75 years or so.


  1. Interesting recap. I'm glad you were all okay, but sad for those who weren't. In the seven years I lived in the Mojave Desert, I experienced two earthquakes, neither of which were particularly exciting for us. But I remember all the phone calls we got from people away in other places, wondering if we were all okay. I remember when I moved to CA, people worried about me and the earthquakes.

  2. PS: It's fun to see the "where is everyone reading list" and knowing that I am not the Springfield, MO person anymore but Albuquerque, NM.

  3. I was at a bar on 18th and Geary!!!

  4. I was about 8 months preggo w Jenny then here in Ohio. I remember seeing that bridge picture and all the news going on. P.


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