Where were you in the 1989 quake? If we had another quake of that magnitude today, would SF be better or worse off, in your opinion?
On October 17th, 1989, I was at Candlestick Park, hoping to finally see the Giants win a game against the A's.
Yep. I was at the World Series when the quake hit.
My father got a pair of tickets through work, and I remember leaving class at SF State a little early in order to drop off my books and get a coat before heading to the ballpark. (It was October, so it was a really warm day — earthquake weather! — but Candlestick could be freezing even on the warmest of nights.) We got there with a little time before the first pitch, so after settling into our seats, my dad left to get a beer.
We were in the right field bleachers, in stands that were all metal, and shaded by the upper deck. People just walking up and down the aisles would cause the whole section to make noise and shake a little, so when I started to feel and hear a rumble a little after 5 p.m., I thought it was just fans pounding their feat around me, trying to get a pre-game rally started.
But then the seats really started to shake... and the shaking was loud. Then I could hear the entire stadium almost go quiet, as if everyone inhaled at once, asking themselves, "Wait...is this an... earthquake?!!"
It was an earthquake. Undeniably. I looked above me and all I could see was concrete. And then I looked ahead of me, and immediately thought, "If this place starts to go down, I'm running onto that field, and into Kevin Mitchell's arms." He was standing in right field, looking about as stunned as I was.
Then the power went out, and people started screaming.
And then, after what felt like minutes, but was only about 10 seconds, the shaking stopped.
And the stadium began to cheer.
I had a small black and white Sony Watchman TV (kids, ask your parents) with me so I could watch instant replays during the game, and I scanned it for a broadcast. My dad came back, and I think he was actually laughing, in a "Wow! That was a ride wasn't it?!" kind of way. There was no power, so no one could make any kind of announcement. For a few minutes, we really had no idea if the quake just felt a lot worse than it actually was; people weren't rushing for the exits. There was more a sense of "How crazy is this!? The one time the Giants and the A's are both in the World Series, and there's an earthquake! OF COURSE THERE IS!"
But then my little TV started to broadcast the damage. On that tiny black and white screen we saw the unfathomable wreckage: Part of the upper deck of the Bay Bridge had just flipped down onto the lower deck; an entire freeway overpass in Oakland had crushed the freeway below it; the Marina was on fire.
Since we lived on Potrero Hill, it didn't take very long to get home, and I remember the freeway was pretty empty. Luckily, none of our friends or family was hurt, or had suffered any kind of property damage from the quake. But mentally, I was still suffering some PTSD 10 days later, when we returned to Candlestick for the rescheduled Game Three. Every time the fans would stomp their feet, I was sure the REALLY big one was about to hit, and I'd start to feel sick. I couldn't stay through the whole game. We left around the 6th inning. (And OK, fine, the fact that the Giants were getting their asses kicked wasn't helping.)
You ask if we had another similar magnitude quake today, whether SF would better off, or worse, and honestly, I'm not sure! I mean, theoretically, the new span of the Bay Bridge is supposed to remain in one piece should it happen again, but we all know that's not something to bet any money on.
In 2013, (which seems a ridiculously long time after the '89 quake), the "Mandatory Soft Story Retrofit Program" was implemented within San Francisco, requiring buildings with "soft story" first floors to be earthquake-proofed. In theory this would prevent the collapses that happened in the Marina (which also resulted in mass fires). My apartment building was one of those required to retrofit, and I have the rent increase to prove it, although I've been on that "soft story" first floor, and damned if I can see what they actually did to shore it up.
The Marina is still built on landfill, which is prone to liquefaction, and since 1989, even more neighborhoods have been built on landfill. Those new neighborhoods are also filled with newer buildings, and while they should, theoretically, be built up to strict quake codes, when I hear that one of the tallest and most expensive buildings to go up is already sinking and tilting, without the aid of a quake, it has me worried!
Back in 1989, information was leaked out to us. Power was out, for days in some neighborhoods, so we had to rely on battery operated TVs and radios, and we really only had four sources of info, namely the four local network affiliates, until the papers came out the next day. We didn't have to deal with hysterics on Twitter screaming that the Transamerica building was about to collapse and the C.H.U.D.s were coming above ground to eat survivors of the wreckage.
Perhaps that will be the only saving grace of another quake. Perhaps it would take out the power and the cell phone towers long enough to prevent widespread panic, and get people to look up from their phones, go outside, find out what's happening from their neighbors, and go to where help is needed.
All without the help of Google maps.
Rain Jokinen was born and raised in San Francisco and, miraculously, still calls the city home. Her future plans include becoming a millionaire, buying a condo complex, and then tearing it down to replace it with a dive bar. You can ask this native San Franciscan your questions here.Ask a San Francisco Native, a column penned by SF native and longtime SFist contributor Rain Jokinen, which is inspired by a similar one on our sister site Gothamist, and is intended to put to rest all those questions only a native of this city can answer. Send yours here!