Share Your Loma Prieta Quake Memories (I'll Start by Sharing Mine)

Where were you 23 years ago today? Did the earthquake rock your world?

Today marks 23 years since the Loma Prieta Earthquake. Pretty much everyone I've come across who was more than 4-5 years old and living in the greater Bay Area at the time had a story to tell about where they were and what they did after the big 6.9 shaker.

My story? I was covering the World Series.

My seat at Candlestick Park was in the overflow media area directly behind home plate but nearly under the overhang of the stadium. There I was, representing the Santa Cruz Sentinel newspaper, surrounded by TV personalities from major networks and out-of-town reporters and columnists. When the public address system came back on after a short delay, "Shake Rattle & Roll" was played — a clear sign that it wasn't seen as a big deal and that the game would be played.

Minutes later, fans holding Sony Watchman TVs were showing people the video feed from TV helicopters to people in the stands. The networks were showing the collapsed portion of the Bay Bridge, smoke from the Marina District of San Francisco and the collapsed Cypress Structure in Oakland. When the game was postponed, the media was invited down to the field to hear from Commissioner of Baseball Fay Vincent and get reaction from the players.

Gathered information was useless because I couldn't connect my Tandy 200 laptop to a phone line — the phones were dead. So I left the stadium and mingled with tailgaters in the parking lot — total strangers who offered me a beer because the gridlock on Highway 101 was preventing anyone from leaving. More than an hour later, I battled the traffic and headed south on surface streets, choosing not to get stuck in the highway traffic. It took me five hours to reach my sister's place in San Mateo, where I stayed for the night.

Someone from the Santa Cruz Sentinel had reached my fiance (now wife), who guessed that I would try to get to my sister's place, so a message was waiting for me when I arrived. My instructions were to show up at the San Jose Mercury News offices the next morning. That was a signal that there were problems at the Sentinel office. Was it still standing? It was, but the press was knocked off its foundation and was unusable, so an agreement was made with the arch rival to print a paper on the Merc presses. (Today the papers are owned by the same company).

About 10 of my co-workers trickled into the Merc office the next morning. It was familiar territory to me because I'd worked two years there in a "go-fer" role prior to getting hired as a Sentinel sportswriter. I was the only Sentinel staffer who knew how the computers worked, so I spent the next few hours tutoring people about the complicated coding system.

With about 30 minutes before our deadline, our sports editor asked where my story was. I had been so busy tutoring that I didn't have time to write anything. He said he had a gaping hole on his one and only sports page and that I had to pound out whatever I could in the next few minutes. I did, and today it's probably my most treasured clipping from my 25 year career in journalism.

The Sentinel, established in 1856, nearly went a day without publishing for the first time in its history. We avoided that milestone by making an eight-page edition, packed with stories and photos of the death and destruction, and with no advertising whatsoever, and delivering it on the evening of Oct. 18. Many citizens told us later it was comforting to get that paper delivered, a sign that the world was still spinning on its axis and that life goes on.

Santa Cruz County was hit especially hard — the quake's epicenter was in the redwood forest just north of Aptos, halfway between Santa Cruz and Watsonville. There were seven deaths in Santa Cruz County and many people homeless because of partially collapsed buildings. The rubble was removed slowly, and there are still empty lots in the Pacific Garden Mall area as a reminder of the devastation.

That's my story. I'm going to pause at 5:04 p.m. today, the actually anniversary of when the quake struck. The hands of the town clock in Santa Cruz were locked in that position for a long time afterward to as a solemn reminder.

Want to share your story? Add a comment below. You might want to check out the memories being shared with Santa Cruz Patch as well.

Baxter October 18, 2012 at 04:04 PM
I was in S.F. on the 11th floor of a beautiful buidling on California St. across from the Bank of America. My co-workers had left for the game at Candlestick. I stayed behind to train a young women who transferred from the mid-west. Being borne and raised in Marin, I've felt a few quacks in the past. So, I was very calm when the building started rolling back and forth. The newer buildings in S.F. are literally built on rollers. It felt like standing on a skate board while it rolls back and forth on the sidewalk. I remember shouting out, "this is soooo cool" until I looked out the window and saw pieces of glass and fascia falling from other builidings that were literally shaking, not rolling. The girl from the mid-west was hysterical and I told everyone on the floor to get under their desks. I remember walking towards the Ferry Building in disbelief of what I saw all along California St. What really struck me was the Ferry Building clock stopped at 5:05 p.m. and remained that way for weeks if not months. I have a photograph of it from the Chronicle. It will always be a reminder. As I look back I remember not everyone had cell phones like today. There were so many people lined up at every block to use the public phones. They were in a panic, crying and hugging each other worrying for their children and loved ones. I also remember taking the Larkspur ferry home (after waiting for hours) and seeing the Marina on fire. I'll never forget that. The girl from midwest moved back home!
Karen Dionne October 18, 2012 at 04:11 PM
I wasn't around during Loma Prieta Quake. Did anyone feel/hear the small earthquake last night around 6:30 or 7:00? We were in San Rafael eating dinner with friends from out of town. It was their first time to experience an earthquake.
Dennis A. Mac Donneil October 18, 2012 at 08:19 PM
I was just closing up my office in the penthouse of the 10-story Flatiron building at the corner of Market/Sutter/Sansome. It was quite a ride. When the shaking stopped, I got up from the floor (I rode out the shake on all fours) and sent into the reception area. Our temporary receptionist came out from under her desk and asks if she could leave. I said yes and went back to my office. I called home and said "how did you like that one" when the phone went dead. I looked out the window up Sansome and the street was full of people and dust. After turning everything off, I walked down stairs. On the mezzanine, I climbed over debris to get to the ground flood. I walked out and down Market Street to get my car out of the garage. I drove up and across market to Mission, down Mission to the Embarcadero and left toward Fisherman's Wharf. The lights on the light poles had broken off and hung down. I cut over on North Point, up Van Ness to Bay, and down along the Marina Green. I drove over some fire hoses and looked up streets, seeing some homes on fire. I was on the Golden Gate Bridge by 5:40 pm and home to Novato by just after 6 pm. I went back into the San Francisco the next day to arrange for engineers to inspect our building. It was quite an event I will long remember.
Will Lamers October 22, 2012 at 07:21 PM
"..Felt a few quacks..."? Thanks for the grin!
Will Lamers October 22, 2012 at 07:30 PM
October 17, 1989 was our second wedding anniversary, so my wife and I had taken the day off to be together. She was 8 months pregnant with our first child, and we were in the process of interviewing pediatricians. We had a 4:15 appointment, so we showed up early to fill all the paperwork out, then we waited. And waitied. And waited. Finally, a little before 5:00, the nurse told us that we would not be able to see the doctor because he was too busy. I took my wife out to the car, but by this time I had a head of steam up and felt that I should tell that nurse off. I stormed into the second floor office and was just about to give her a piece of my mind when the quake hit. You should have seen the look on her face, it was priceless! After the shaking stopped I said "Never Mind" and walked out... I hope she does not blame me for the quake... My wife thought I was bouncing on the bumper, until she saw all the cars in the parking lot bouncing.


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