For the last few days SFist has been running videos from various sources documenting the 6.9-magnitude Loma Prieta Earthquake and its aftermath, marking the quake's 25th anniversary, which is today.
Everyone who was here has a story, and for those of us who weren't, and for whom this long-ago natural disaster was just another item on the evening news or something we were too young to have even seen live on TV these stories are all the more gripping. We reached out to friends and colleagues who are from here and experienced the quake first-hand on October 17, 1989, all when they were kids, and their memories of it are vivid and fantastic.
I was at Candlestick Park when the earthquake hit. It was about half an hour before the World Series was suppose to start, and I was trying to get autographs by the elevator that came from the player's clubhouse to the suite level. Often, retired players and other celebrities a frequent visitor was Willie Mays would come off the elevator to head to their suites to watch the game. I was waiting with a couple of fellow autograph hounds when out walked Joe and Jennifer Montana. Almost before I could get out the words, "Mr. Montana, could I have your...", the earthquake started. I don't remember much, except hearing the screams of Jennifer Montana as we all tried to find the closest railing or wall to hang onto.
Later, one of the other autograph hounds claimed that during the earthquake, Joe had valiantly grabbed his shoulders and put him under a doorway for safety. Who am I to question this?
- Christine P. Sun, ACLU attorney
I was a senior in high school and was out at the Polo Fields for field hockey practice. It was a warm, still day ("earthquake weather" as we call it) and there were all kinds of teams out practicing, including a football team at the west end. When the earthquake hit, we all stopped practicing, stood up and rode it out. I recall the optical illusion of the football team moving back and forth as I looked down the fields. After it ended, we all looked at each other and shrugged, and went back to what we were doing. We were natives so earthquakes were nothing new and without buildings around us, we had no sense of what had transpired. The eucalyptus trees that line the perimeter of the Polo Fields were all of a sudden swaying but there was no wind. It was very eerie. Then a man walked by with a transistor radio (I know, really dating myself with that reference!) and he said he heard the press box collapsed at Candlestick, where the World Series Game was being held between the Giants and the A's. This turned out not to be true but immediately we all realized this was a bigger quake then we originally thought. Getting home was eerie as well no stoplights were working and everyone was out on the streets, talking to each other and checking in. After reuniting with my family, we swapped stories. My father worked in the financial district and recalled walking over broken glass on the sidewalks from fallen windows to get to his parking lot and then being delighted that the parking attendant couldn't collect his fees because of the power outage. We didn't have power for the next three days, so I never saw any of the visuals of the Marina burning or the Bay Bridge collapse we only heard about everything by radio. I did walk down to the Marina District on Day 2 or 3 and remember the smell of gas. It was sad to be down there and see so much damage (buckled sidewalks, wilted building fronts, bricks and glass) and displacement, people trying to figure out what to do, a shelter set up at Marina Middle School. I never felt any aftershocks from the earthquake. My mother was overseas in China at the time and heard on an English station only these words in a brief announcement: "There has been a large earthquake in San Francisco and the Bay Bridge has collapsed." It took two days for her to even get a phone call through to find out what had actually happened.
- Sarah Bacon, founder, Richmond SF blog
My memories of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake are inextricably tied to the World Series. I was seven years old at the time, and obsessed with baseball.
I was that kid. That kid with a worn-out black cap who read the boxscores every morning in the Chronicle! and then went out and threw a ball against a wall for hours, pretending I was Robby Thompson and Jose Uribe flipping a double play. I collected baseball cards. I fell asleep listening to Hank Greenwalk doing the play-by-play on my bedside radio. I kept a stash of Croix de Candlestick pins. I loved the game.
So you can imagine the thrill of a seven-year-old when the San Francisco Giants made THE WORLD SERIES. And of all things, they were going to play the crosstown Oakland A's. The Bay Bridge Series. Think about that, and how ridiculous the city would be nowadays if that match-up happened again.
Game Three of the Bay Bridge Series was about to start. I was at my grandparents' house in South City, sitting cross-legged in front of the old television next to my little sister. The earthquake hit during the pregame show.
For some reason, the shaking didn't seem like a foreign sensation. I forget if it was because we had practiced protocol in school, or because I had felt other earthquakes. It was such a prolonged shake that my grandmother had time to run into the room and tell us to hide under the table. We did. I don't recall being scared though, probably because I didn't know any better. Not much was ajar in the house.
That part is all fairly vivid, but my memories of the aftermath are all blurry snapshots: fires, bridge breaks, checking in on family members, broken plates, earthquake kits, listening to the radio. I do remember that there was no baseball that day.
- Paolo Lucchesi, Chronicle food reporter, Editor of Inside Scoop SF
I was just a few minutes into my piano lesson on the second floor of our house in Pacific Heights when the earthquake struck. I turned to my piano teacher and said, "We need to get in the doorway." As the shaking intensified, he hugged me close and said, "This is it. It's all over. This is it." I was NOT feeling it his doomsday prophecy or his arms wrapped tightly around me so I did what any little girl would do: switched doorways mid-quake. We had no power and the phones weren't working, so we sent him home afterwards and then went to a family friend's house on Filbert Street, where a large group of us sat in the dark, listened to a tiny radio, and watched the Marina burn. I was so scared and just didn't understand why we would ever choose to live in a place where something so horrible could happen with no warning. Of course, today, there's no where else on earth I'd rather live. I do, however, blame that piano teacher for my intense hatred of hugs.
- Daisy Barringer, SFist football columnist and editor of Thrillist SF
It was so long ago that I don't remember the before, just the during. I was at my best friend's house. Sitting up against one side of the bed looking at a book, I wondered why all of the sudden my friend had started pushing, really pushing the bed towards me. She made a strange sound, sort of indicating an annoyance (we were six at the time, we didn't know how to express ourselves clearly). Before she could muster up anything else her mother burst into the room screaming "GET OUT OF HERE!!! FOLLOW ME!!!" I think she even shouted "RUN RUN RUN!!" I was really scared, not because of the movements (it still hadn't registered that something bad was happening), but because I had never seen her mom act so out of control. She was terrified, which terrified me. We ran down the hallway, through the living room and slid under the dining table. It took about 10 seconds to do that, and by the time we were under the table I could see the floor moving. Vases, photos, bookshelves, they were all falling down. I blinked and the quake stopped. I don't remember what immediately happened after that, but I still have images stuck in my head from the news the following days. The freeway collapse. The bridge breaking. What happened to the Marina. I remember seeing photos of bloodied rescue workers. It was very scary because up until then I thought adults were invincible, or at least firemen and police officers. I remember hoping my home would survive. When I say "home," I'm talking about the Bay Area. Oakland, San Francisco, Santa Cruz ... I remember wondering if something so broken could be fixed. I think that's one of the reasons I still can't move out of the Bay Area. I saw parts of it crumble, and people stayed to rebuild it. I think it was my earliest memory of feeling prideful. This horrible catastrophe had happened: people died, homes were destroyed, but then people stayed and helped fix it. It feels good to call a place and a people like that home.
- Sally Kuchar, city sites editor, Curbed
I remember the earthquake vividly. I was a sophomore at Carmel High School and my friends and I were hanging out by the outdoor pool, behind the gym, watching the water polo game. My brother was at football practice and I could see him on the field below. A good minute before the shaking, we heard what sounded like an enormous scaffolding collapsing inside the gym, metal-on-metal clanging that was so loud it was incomprehensible and then the ground started shaking. The pool was sloshing water and players around. Parents (clearly not natives) were on their knees screaming. I could see my brother and his teammates, little red and white specs on the field below, riding the huge waves that were rippling across the field. Beyond the football field, I could see these waves flow over the Santa Lucia mountains that frame one side of Carmel Valley. It was pretty humbling, the scale of these waves that were so much bigger than us, our town, the mountains. We are truly just existing on the very top bit of crust, absolutely insignificant to the massive scale of movement below.
- Joelle Colliard, architect, TEF Design