In remembrance of the Loma Prieta earthquake which happened 25 years ago Friday, on October 17, 1989 SFist will be devoting some special coverage to the historical record of the quake itself, and its aftermath, over the next several days.
As part of an official report for FEMA, the National Emergency Training Center, and now the Department of Homeland Security, the California Highway Patrol Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team edited together this tape of all the pertinent news footage in existence pertaining to roadway-related collapses and emergencies in the hours after the 1989 Loma Prieta Quake. The video is 23 minutes long, and you may not have time to watch it all until later, but I promise you it is chilling, thorough, and completely gripping, if also extremely sad and not for the faint of heart.
To this day, few people especially recent transplants to the Bay Area know that the bulk of the tragedy to come out of that quake had less to do with bridge-deck collapses or housing collapses in the Marina, but was mostly concentrated in one place: the Cypress Freeway Viaduct in West Oakland. The double-decker freeway structure, built in the 1950s, connected 880 to the Bay Bridge approach and ran along what is now Mandela Parkway. Of the 63 deaths that occurred because of the earthquake, 42 of them occurred after the upper deck of the Cypress Freeway pancaked onto the lower deck, trapping and crushing dozens of cars.
The video above, while not extremely graphic, does show the drama in the streets of West Oakland as emergency personnel and regular civilians attempted to rescue people trapped on the lower deck of the freeway.
It also depicts the CHP's response to the hundreds of cars that were trapped on the eastbound sections of the Bay Bridge after the piece of the eastern span's deck collapsed onto the lower roadway.
And in the video are a couple of little known and tragic pieces to the earthquake story. First is the story that goes with some dramatic footage that was widely publicized: At 5:35 p.m., 31 minutes after the earthquake, a 1980 Mercury Zephyr traveling from San Francisco, driven by a 23-year-old woman, managed to get onto the upper, westbound deck of the bridge, speeding east in an effort to get back to Oakland. Upon seeing that a piece of the deck on the eastern span was missing, she continued on in an attempt to leap the 50-foot gap, going 49 miles per hour. The car made it almost across, crashing into the break in the upper deck on the opposite side, with the front of the car getting lodged there, suspended. The driver and her brother, the passenger, were medivac'd out, and the driver was pronounced dead on arrival. The brother survived because he'd been wearing a seatbelt. That piece of the video begins at 9:50.
Then, at 13:30, is probably the worst story of any of the Loma Prieta deaths, and I warn anyone who's having a bad day from reading any further. In one of the cars crushed on the Cypress Freeway, there was a seven-year-old boy who had survived, but he was trapped underneath his dead mother. A surgeon on site made the decision with emergency personnel to cut through the mother's body in order to rescue the boy, because she could not be extricated whole. Even then, the boy was still trapped, and the surgeon had to amputate part of his leg in order to save him. Some firefighters involved with the rescue took part in this recent oral history from SF Mag.
I apologize in advance, but this is our history.