It's hard to focus too heavily on the past today, after a week that has seen some of the worst and sure to be counted as the deadliest wildfires in state history that tore through wine country, took at least 41 lives, and destroyed thousands of homes. But October has the ignominious distinction of being a month of death and destruction for the Bay Area, most notably with two historic disasters that took place almost exactly two years apart, in 1989 and 1991.
28 years ago today, on October 17, 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake struck at 5:04 p.m. local time, just as a World Series game was about to begin at Candlestick Park a "subway series" showdown between the Oakland A's and San Francisco Giants, and looking back many have surmised that the relatively low death toll from the quake may have been due to the sheer number of people who were already hunkered down in front of a television somewhere ready to watch the game.
If you haven't watched it, and we've posted it before, you should take in this footage of ABC 7's Cheryl Jennings, new to the anchor seat at the station, calmly and coolly reporting on the quake that had just struck, and riding out several aftershocks while on air. KCRA also has this montage of TV footage of the partially collapsed Bay Bridge and the Nimitz Freeway in Oakland, where one concrete deck pancaked on another, killing and trapping dozens of motorists.
Today we have another account from Bay Area native Diana Gapuz, who was working as a reporter for KCBS radio at the time of the quake, and who narrates her tale of the quake's aftermath for Muni Diaries.
She describes what the city was like following a trek from the East Bay, via the Richmond and Golden Gate Bridges, arriving for her 3 a.m. graveyard shift at the station:
Utter darkness greeted us. Power was completely out in the north side of the city. At the end of each street at Marina Green, a person was sitting on a folding chair. Never found out why.
We reached One Embarcadero, and thankfully, one elevator was operational. The station was on the 32nd floor. On generator power, the newsroom was dim; the mood shocked, somber, and completely focused. Many of our crew had been working since 11 a.m. the day before, and several had been reporting from the game.
Life in the Bay Area stood still for days. And during that time, we all knew how important it was to get information out. One of my best friends told me he was glued to his transistor, listening to our station. It was a lifeline.
SFist's own Ask an SF Native columnist Rain Jokinen told her Loma Prieta story last year, describing what the scene was like at Candlestick Park just after the quake struck.
Below you can see ABC's opening coverage of the World Series from that night. The broadcast cuts out at at the 2:20 mark, and Jennings comes on a minute or so later.
Two years and two days later, the Oakland Hills firestorm would strike, leveling thousands of homes in the Oakland and Berkeley hills and taking 25 lives.
Not until October 2017 would we know a fire disaster as terrifying, deadly, and barely conceivable as that one, but now we do and instead of one fire, it was over a dozen that all sparked at once across Northern California. The Tubbs Fire, which broke out on the evening of October 8, will likely go down as the worst and deadliest the death count from that fire alone now stands at 19, though that number may still rise. It is now the third deadliest single fire in state history, though the combined fire swarm will ultimately be called the deadliest.