While waiting on my freshly mopped floor to dry, I’m sitting here watching television coverage of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. It brings back lots of memories of the Loma Prieta earthquake in San Francisco Bay Area in 1989 where we lived at the time. I am transported back to the exact moment near 5:00 pm when due to a mix up in communications both my husband and I were picking up our second son. The other two children were at home. Our plan was to eat dinner and watch the World Series game between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s.
I pulled right out and drove home excited about the game and humming along with the music on the radio My husband and son pulled out of the parking lot behind me after stopping for traffic. Blissfully unaware, I entered the garage only to see our son and daughter bounding from the house into the garage barely touching ground to impel themselves to my car.
My first thought was how sweet they were to greet me like that and a split second later, I knew something was wrong. “Mom, Mom,” they yelled simultaneously, “We’ve had an earthquake.” By the size of their eyes, I could see it hadn’t been some minor shake. They began to tell me about all the pictures on the wall shaking and the waves in the pool splashing over the edge. They were totally unnerved and I regretted that they had had to go through that alone.
Leo pulled in right behind me and repeated the news I had just heard. All of us hurried to the family room to watch the coverage of this 6.9 earthquake as he and I began to check the house for any damage. The three children were unnaturally quiet as the bad news began to trail out item by item and it just kept getting worse. The baseball game was immediately cancelled and fans were sent home after a time. Our house never lost electricity, but the telephones were impossible to use since no lines were available and cell phones weren’t invented yet. Leo was very concerned about the safety of the employees at his office in San Francisco wondering all the while if the building still stood.
The first news to make an impact was that portions of the top level of the Bay Bridge had collapsed and cars were falling to the bottom level. That was the only method for people on the East Bay to get into the city other than BART, the local subway, which was shut down as soon as the quake hit. Then, the commentators updated the news saying that the Cypress Street Viaduct had collapsed burying cars on the second level. Then, the most devastating news was announced telling us that homes in the Marina District had collapsed and were on fire.
Through all of this you are numb just shutting down emotionally. There is no human way to handle a disaster otherwise. There was no panic at our home just an overwhelming sadness combined with hope that everyone we knew fared as well as we had. During the ensuing days, Leo ran his office out of our family room since most of his top employees, like us, lived in the East Bay. Luckily, due to the various commitments we were involved in, we had four telephone lines for them to use.
Several days later, city authorities notified Leo that they were going to check his office for possible radon before reopening it for business. He traveled north to Marin and then, south over the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco to get to his office. It took four hours just to get there, but the trip was worth it for him. The building was still standing and the damage was minimal due to special earthquake-proof building codes required in San Francisco and before long, they were back in business. It was only then that we learned that one of his employees had lived in the Marina District. While trying to escape their home, his wife and six-month old child had been trapped in the stairwell and their son had died.
Life slowly returned to normal but during the first couple of weeks there were tremors every 45 minutes. I remember standing in my office in Walnut Creek and feeling those small shakes. With each one, all I could think was, “Is this it?”, meaning is this another big one. Although the actual earthquake is terrifying, it is the consistent aftershocks that unnerve you and deepens the fear. I feel as much fear now as I did then despite being tucked safely far away from San Francisco. I suspect this event will bring bad memories back to a lot of people.