20 years ago today I was living with my wife of all of 2 months in the San Francisco Bay Area. I had just gotten home from school and settled on the couch to watch the Giants / A’s World Series when the place started shaking and the power went out. I glanced out the window as a “tidal wave” rolled back and forth in the apartment pool emptying the top fourth of it on the surrounding concrete deck. The shaking continued and the light fixture over our dining table danced and swayed as dishes rattled and clanked in the kitchen cupboards.
When the shaking stopped I ran down to the garage, jumped in my car and turned on the radio to find out just how bad things were. My initial thoughts were that it “Hadn’t been that bad,” but then I realized that depended just how far away the epicenter was. As I was finding radio stations still on the air, the garage light came on and I dashed back to the living room to see what TV might tell me. None of the stations were transmitting yet, so I grabbed a new video tape, slammed it into our VCR and pushed record, when channel 5 in SF came back on the air 5 minutes later I captured their next 5 hours of coverage, a tape I still have.
Meantime, my wife was on the 38th floor of the office building where she worked in downtown San Francisco. She was well trained and found herself hanging on while standing in the door frame of her office. Later building engineers would inform them that the building swayed 6 feet in both directions (as designed) during the quake. The power went out, and so she made her way down 38 flights of stairs lighted only by battery powered emergency lights. When she emerged from the building she found the street littered with chunks of concrete fascia from the Southern Pacific Building. The Bay Bridge had been damaged and BART (rapid transit train) was not running so she was stuck in San Francisco for the night.
I didn’t hear from her for about 3 hours when I managed to get a dial tone and called her at her sister’s apartment. She was holed up there with no power or water for the night. The darkness was only broken by the lights from National Guard helicopters that were landing and taking off from the park next to the apartment. She managed to get home the next day on a ferry and bus trip.
I was teaching sixth grade and the next day found out that one of my student’s father, who was an Oakland fireman, had not been heard from. 2 or 3 days later the family found out he was fine, but working non stop trying to save people trapped in the Nimitz Freeway collapse.
There is so much more of the story, but that’s all I have time to share right now.
Learning is messy!
Tags: LomaPrieta Earthquake