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.