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20 Years - The Loma Prieta Earthquake


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  • 20 Years - The Loma Prieta Earthquake

    I can't believe it has already been 20 years since the Loma Prieta earthquake that rocked California in 1989.

    Below is a quick summary of what I remember from that day. Please, share your stories as well - if you experienced it in person or not.


    Joe Nielsen, Santa Rosawas

  • #2
    Re: 20 Years - The Loma Prieta Earthquake

    I remember the quake very well. Twenty years? Wow. It's been a long time. I had moved from OC to San Francisco the year before, to attend SFSU and complete my B.A. I was on campus when the quake hit.

    I had class on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:00 PM in the Humanities building that semester. Our professor was standing at the podium, sorting through her mail she had just picked up before class. I distinctly remember the faculty flyer she held up, about an earthquake preparedness workshop that was held the previous day. "It's a little late now" she remarked while tossing the flyer in the trash. Then just one or two minutes later while she was taking role, the quake hit. How freaky that she showed us that flyer about the workshop moments before it hit.

    The quake hit suddenly with a loud hard jolt, no buildup as I've experienced with other quakes. Desks danced all over the room while everyone was fleeing out the door into the hallway, and pouring out onto the sidewalk near Holloway and 19th Avenue. We could see smoke off in the distance towards the Bay, traffic lights and electricity were out all around, and everyone was just walking around or huddled in small groups, trying to compose themselves.

    Campus authorities were going around to check on all the buildings, telling everyone to stay out. Some of us were desperate to get our bags and books, so we ignored the warnings and quickly ran back inside to retrieve our belongings. I remember seeing large visible cracks in the walls and one or two overhead fluorescent lamps broken, and desks scattered everywhere, even out in the hallways blocking classroom doors, but no major damage to speak of. Once I collected my belongings, I headed towards the student union where my bike was locked up. I saw one or two students with pocket TVs and dozens of students surrounding them, listening to the news about the quake damage and bridge collapse. (The World Series was about to begin at Candlestick when the quake hit, which is why the students had the TVs with them.)

    I had a horrifying experience trying to get home with all the street lights out. Most drivers were patient enough to take turns at the intersections, but some were just consumed with too much panic regarding their families, and didn't heed the rules regarding street lights without power automatically becoming stop signs. I had at least a dozen near misses trying to cross the side streets riding up the bike path on Sunset Ave, and witnessed one minor collision when two cars reached an intersection at the same time and neither refused to yield.

    By the time I got home and discovered only minor damage to the apartment and housewares (my roommate arrived from campus before I did) the sun was starting to set. The power was still out city-wide. I can remember standing out on the sidewalk and watching the stars, for the first and last time, inside the city limits. It was amazing to see the Milky Way from inside San Francisco! You usually have to be on a mountain top away from civilization to get such clarity. I later learned that several astronomy students and their professor sneaked into Thornton Hall that night to use the telescopes on the roof, realizing they'd never get another opportunity like that, with such a clear night.

    The most difficult part of dealing with the quake was returning to classes a few days later, once the experts deemed it was safe. Some of my fellow students had lost their dorm rooms in Verducci Hall, and some lost their rental housing in the Marina, that they were sharing with other students. One gal who regularly sat next to me in one of my theory classes lost both her SF apartment AND childhood home near the epicenter of the quake in the Santa Cruz mountains. She and her boyfriend had relocated to a hotel room with her parents; they lost everything, including their dog. Her Marina apartment was destroyed in the fire, and her parents' home was completely pancaked into rubble.

    Just before class, she finally let out the grief she had been sitting on for days. Fortunately, our professor had just walked through the door; he was a terrific guy who personally walked her over to the makeshift counseling center they set up for students and faculty dealing with the aftermath. He told her to take the next few weeks off and not worry about class. He also arranged for someone to take lecture notes for her so she wouldn't have to drop. She found a new apartment and returned before Thanksgiving break, and completed the class. Hundreds of students weren't as fortunate and had to drop the semester altogether.

    Aftershocks were plentiful, and kept me on edge for the following two weeks. I slept very poorly, being awakened in the middle of the night by the jolts. I kept a small bag packed with essentials next to my bedroom door, in case another quake hit and I'd have to flee at a moment's notice. Every little tremor or tumbler made me jump. I still found myself reacting to any loud noise, months later.

    In an ironic twist of fate, today is Alumni Day at SFSU. The Alumni Association is having a luncheon at the student union, with alums Peter Casey (producer of Frasier) and Glen Charles (producer of Cheers and Taxi) giving the keynote speeches. I thought about attending, given my admiration for these sitcom legends. But I just couldn't bring myself to go to campus today, on the quake anniversary. It would just be too unsettling.
    "Dope smoking insects and reckless driving always work." -- Cousin Orville


    • #3
      Re: 20 Years - The Loma Prieta Earthquake

      I was attending UC Davis at the time. I was living in an off-campus apartment and I was doing my laundry that day. I put a load in the dryer and returned to my apartment to watch the world series and do some homework. Shortly after I turned on the tv the anouncer (I forget who it was) said, "I think we're having an earthq..." and the screen went fuzzy and went blank. And then I felt it. Being over 80 miles from the epicenter it didn't jolt. Rather it felt like the ground was gently moving from the left to the right and back and forth several feet in each direction, as if there were rollers beneath the surface of the ground and everything was rolling over that back and forth. When I returned to the laundry room which was near the swimming pool I noticed that the ground was wet as I got nearer, as if it had just rained. As I got closer I realized that 3 feet of water was missing from the pool. And I realized that all that water must have sloshed out during the quake. When I got the tv on again the local Sacramento station was on and I realized all the horrilblendamage that was done especially that double decker freeway which I had been on many times before that.


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