Friday, October 9, 2009
Loma Prieta Earthquake Memorial Ceremony
Photo courtesy of blogs.redfin.com - Apartment building in the Marina collapsing onto a car.
It was a warm day on October 17, 1989. There was excitement and high anticipation in the air as the San Francisco Giants and The Oakland A's prepared for their first World Series match at Candlestick Park. The game was to begin at 5:00 p.m.
Though twenty years have passed, I remember that day as if it happened yesterday. I was working downtown for an insurance agency and normally left work at 5:00. Due to the game I left early so that I could be home in time to watch it on television with my neighbor. It's a good thing I left when I did otherwise I would have been stuck downtown all night.
I left work, hopped on my streetcar to get home and was excited about watching the game. The streetcar was rolling along and about 6 blocks from my home when all of a sudden it began shaking and rolling from one side to the other. It was rolling back and forth so forcefully that I thought it was going to fall over on one side. At that time, we, meaning all of the riders on the car thought there was just something wrong with the streetcar. The power went off and the driver had to pry open the doors. We all exited the car and began walking down the street. The street has both commercial and residential buildings. I noticed that hundreds of people were out on the sidewalk and street. I realized then that what we had experienced was an earthquake though no idea the magnitude.
I got to the corner of my block where my friends owned and operated a small cafe. It was about three doors away from my studio apartment. I walked in to see how they were and I was left frozen by what I saw. Their huge refrigerated units had toppled over onto the counter with glass, soda cans etc... sprawled all over the floor. I realized then just how huge this earthquake really was. I ran to my apartment to find my neighbor sitting on his steps and shaking uncontrollably. I had never seen him that scared over anything. I was afraid to open my door. Luckily I had no damage other than a few plates falling from the wall.
The power was out and there was no phone service. I wanted to call my parents and brothers but could not. My parents lived in the same area yet they still had phone service for a while and though I was not able to call out, I could receive calls. I spoke to my Mom who had a battery operated radio and was able to give me bits and pieces of what happened.
I remember her telling me that part of the bridge collapsed, that the Marina district was on fire and that the cypress freeway collapsed. I sat there stunned. I could not believe what she was telling me. Officials initially stated that the earthquake measured 7.1 on the Richter scale and lasted 15 seconds. It began at 5:04 in the afternoon. The aftershocks were frequent and measuring within 5 to 6 on the scale. They were taking place every few minutes.
Photo courtesy of SF Gate - Cypress Freeway collapse
My neighbor and I just sat in my apartment, riding out the aftershocks, scared to death and huddled together all evening. I remember at one point we heard a very low flying plane. We ran out the door to the street. It was pitch black outside. No power anywhere. The engines from the plane were deafening. It was right above the building and so low that we could actually see the landing gear. It seemed as though it was only a few feet above the roofs of the homes. I was never so scared in my life.
Finally the power was restored around midnight. We turned on the television to complete devastation. The Marina district had crumbled to the ground and there was fire everywhere. One area on the the top level of the bay bridge had collapsed onto the lower deck, trapping people and cars. The cypress freeway had buckled with the top level collapsing onto the lower level trapping hundreds of people and cars. Watching all of this just sickened me. I did not sleep all night. I lay on the top of my bed, fully clothed with a bag packed and ready to escape. The aftershocks continued all night long.
At that time I worked for an insurance agency and as a result had to get to work the next day even though there was very limited transportation. I spent the next two weeks at work doing nothing but filing claims for customers. I have to say that although insurance companies are very often vilified, they stepped up to the plate during this disaster. Most people did not have earthquake coverage at that time yet the insurance companies that we dealt with paid on every claim filed.
Photo courtesy of commons.wikipedia.org - The Marina District
This was a disastrous quake which resulted in death and destruction all over the bay area. 63 lives were lost and 70 billion in damages. The police, paramedic and fire departments risked their lives each day as well as regular citizens for weeks following the earthquake rescuing people from their cars which were trapped under the cypress freeway. It was a devastating and humbling experience for all of us who lived through this disaster.
On October 17th of this year a memorial dedication ceremony will take place on the Marina Green in San Francisco to mark the twenty year anniversary. Our Mayor Gavin Newsom along with city dignitaries to include the fire and police departments will be on hand for this day long event. I am also happy and proud that my friends and jazz performers Sony Holland and Jerry Holland have been chosen to perform for this very special event.
If you are in the area, make sure to stop by the marina green for the festivities. You can find more information here @ Marina Earthquake Memorial