The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake occurred in northern California on October 17th at 5:04 p.m. At the time my wife and I were living part-time on a boat in the Marina District of San Francisco. Huge support poles for the docks and ships’ masts began to crisscross each other. A lady screamed from Marina Blvd. Cars crashed. Honks blared. Propane tanks exploded. Flames shot up. I left a blank T.V. & the World Series behind and went to the parking lot where everyone gathered around a pickup and its radio. Broadcasters sent out alarms, stating that the downtown was buried under eight feet of glass, that the Bay Bridge was down, that the Nimitz Freeway had collapsed.
The overhead wires stopped putting out electricity. The wife disembarked from her commuter bus just outside the Stockton Tunnel in Chinatown and began her three-mile trek to the boat. Wide-eyed pedestrians scurried around, traffic jammed up at intersections, signals on the blink, glass everywhere. She passed through Ghirardelli Square and Fort Mason until she came to Great Meadow Park and scanned the devastation of the Marina District for the first time.
Loma Prieta Earthquake:
She gaped in shock at the sight of the smoke and flames. With the unknown on her mind, she wondered where I was, if I was still across town at work. Unable to communicate with me, she ventured on toward our boat. Upon reaching the Marina Green, the ground underneath sloshed up from the liquefaction. Men recruited other able-bodied souls to help run hoses from a distance as the nearby hydrants were on the fritz. A fountain of fire spewed upwards from a ruptured gas main.
Later that evening, we were one of the few who were not evicted from the area. It was a surreal scene. No traffic with the exception of police and other emergency vehicles as red and blue orbs flashed throughout the night. Loudspeakers demanded citizens to vacate the neighborhood. Bleeping sirens warned potential looters. Street lamps went dark. The fireboat Phoenix tied up and began pumping bay water to the fire engines on shore.
The next day we meandered across the yellow tape with others, the smell of gas heavy in the air. I noticed a familiar building, but something wasn’t right. At first there appeared to be no structural damage, everything intact as I had remembered. But upon closer inspection, the unfathomable came alive. The four-story residence had given way evenly on all its corners. The second floor was now level with the sidewalk, not a single doorway present. Gone was the garage, entrance and lobby. What were your memories of Oct. 17, 1989?