To wrap up our commemorative coverage of the Loma Prieta earthquake today, SFist brings you some memories sent in from readers of what their October 17, 1989 experiences were like here in the Bay Area.
If you haven't seen it, first check out Jim Wheaton's story of being one of the first cars to encounter the broken upper deck of the Bay Bridge — barely stopping in time to keep from driving off the cliff, as one car did in some famous video footage.
Leigh Anne Varney:
I’d won tickets to World Series Game 3 from KFOG by being the 10th caller in a contest. (The tickets included a bus ride from downtown as well, which in retrospect helped out tremendously post-quake since we didn’t have to worry about leaving our car behind.)
We were just sitting down on the upper deck at Candlestick to enjoy our beers when they started sloshing back and forth. I thought it was the “Wave.” But when all the ballplayers spilled out of the dugout and onto the field, and then cop cars arrived as well, it was clearly not partying fans. A man behind us had a Sony Watchman (portable TV of the time) and he yelled —“The Bay Bridge has fallen down! The Marina’s on fire!” His picture was in and out but the audio worked and he kept yelling all sorts of reports.
We made our way off the upper deck, winding down to a slew of Muni buses lined up outside. The ride back to SF was anxious and the bus deathly quiet. The city was dark. I could see a reddish glow off in the distance for a bit (am assuming the Marina fire). The traffic began to back up along 280 to 19th Ave. Two hours later we had managed to crawl our way up 19th Ave to Noriega but we’d had enough so we hopped off and walked to my boyfriend’s car parked along Park Presidio. Driving home to the Outer Richmond was extremely creepy as everyone was outside, there were candles and a few barbecues emitting light but otherwise it was dark. Dystopian. The mood somber. Eerily silent.
After seeing the ABC 7 broadcast with Cheryl Jennings, now I know what my mother saw (and why she freaked out) since I was at Game 3 at Candlestick! She was watching national TV from across the country and never liked that I’d moved to earthquake country when the screen went blank and Al Michaels talks about an earthquake, it confirmed all her worst fears.
Our apartments had little damage but we were out of power. The phone line worked but the circuits were busy for nearly a day. I was able to reach my mother on the phone (landline, of course) about 24 hours later. She begged me to leave SF which I never did.
I am a born and raised Oaklander, but have always been a Giants fan. I was a freshman in high school in 1989. I had left school early that day to go to the World Series with my dad. We were walking around the concessions when the earthquake rolled under us. I remember looking up to see one of those huge light banks swaying back and forth. Both Bay Area natives, we knew it was a big one, but didn’t know just how big right away so we walked back to our seats in the “center field” desert that was Section 53. A guy sitting next to us had one of those old portable TVs and had the helicopter feed showing the bridge. We realized at that point we weren’t going to be watching the game that night. So we used the endless walking ramps to leave Candlestick, then took MUNI out to the Cow Palace where they had overflow parking. By that time they had closed all of the bridges for inspection, so we headed south on 101 and what would turn out to be a four-hour journey around the Bay in the pitch dark until we got back to my house in the Oakland Hills.
Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness
When the earthquake hit I was driving north on 280 from San Mateo headed to San Francisco. All of a sudden my car was hopping and I thought 'Shit I've got a flat tire.' I pulled over and got out to check my tire. I looked back down the freeway and everyone — I mean everyone — was looking at their tires, pulled off the road at the exact same time.
SFist commenter Maurice:
I was in 9th Grade, and at Whole Earth Access on Ashby in Berkeley with my mom for some after-school shopping. I remember diving under a clothes rack when the quake hit. Then coming outside to see smoke rising from the direction of downtown Berkeley where my brother was in football practice.
We turned on KCBS to drive up home to ashby. It was hard to tell at first the level of the damage.
And then as I recall, I spent the next 48 hour religiously watching KPIX-5 news, with Wendy Tokuda and Dave McElhatton. They were steady hands, true locals. Telling the story of the Bridge and the Cypress Structure collapse in Oakland, and helping us sort through aftershocks. It's actually funny to think how important local TV was in that era — it's so diminished now.
I was in the 7th grade at that time and I had an after school paper route. Yes, people wanted the "Four star final" or the last print of the day. Man, I feel old...
Anyway, I was on 18th between Guerrero and Linda streets and took a quick break siting on a stoop, chomping on sunflower seeds. When the quake started I jumped up and ran to the sidewalk, unsure what was going on. I was facing east down 18th. I could see the ripples approaching in the street (mind you this is concrete and asphalt; it looked like someone threw a stone in a still lake). An old man was walking his dog across the street and the dog was barking frantically, telephone poles were moving to and fro like metronomes and buildings were swaying and leaning on one another with a horrible sound of wood being twisted and stressed.
The exact spot where I was sitting moments earlier there was a living room or bedroom above and — I shit you not — the glass in the windows shattered and landed where I was sitting before I bolted to the sidewalk. My stack of undelivered papers took the brunt.
Now I was scared. Parked cars were bouncing like they had hydraulics, some clown on a motorcycle was riding the waves and was hooting as he rode down the block. Before I could process the surreal scene it was over. I went home a few blocks away and my family were all OK and our place was undamaged. We all sat together in the dark that night listening to a transistor radio and learned of the the destruction in the Marina and on the Bay Bridge.
I was born and grew up in SF, but in 1989 had been living in Amsterdam for 14 years. My Dutch husband and I moved to SF in late July, 1989, when I was more than 7 months pregnant, the baby being due on October 28. We moved into a flat in the Sunset and started painting the walls and fixing it up. On October 17th, my husband was in Davis and I was home alone when the earthquake hit. Every single wall cracked and we found out later that our block used to be a pond. I thought, as the windows creaked and the furniture rocked and rolled, "If this doesn't put me into premature labor, nothing will."We had no power, but it was a great way to meet the neighbors, as everyone was out on the sidewalk listening to short-wave radios. About an hour later, a friend of mine showed up with two of her colleagues, as they couldn't get back to their homes in Oakland. They bedded down in our living room. Around 3 a.m., the power came back on and I was able to call my husband. The baby arrived on her due date. She turns 30 on October 28.
Christine P. Sun:
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?
I was living with a roommate in the Haight. She and I were both home about to watch the ballgame on TV. I remember, just outside our window, we had been watching some workmen on a roof next door, working on someone's chimney. When the quake struck, we both got into doorways. There was a shelf in the living room where my roommate had just a couple of things (she was a woman in her early 20s, and the decor was pretty bare bones). There was this small vase that had been her grandmothers, and next to it, a Senor Frog's margarita glass. They both tumbled off the shelf. The vase survived, but the Senor Frog's glass shattered. After it was over, we went outside like most everyone in the neighborhood did. The two chimney guys were standing out there, smoking cigarettes with us with crazed looks in their eyes like they'd almost died, which they probably almost did.
Photo: Nancy Wong/Wikimedia