Bristol Rd to La Borinqueña

Ricardo Olguin

I was 10 years old. The weather was hot and dry, our Indian summer in the East Bay. The sky was orange, as it is with every earthquake weather.

I lived on Bristol Road in Dublin, and I was riding my most favorite skateboard at first westbound on tamarack drive and turned north onto Bristol Road. I was skating with my best friend Eli Gonzalez. I was two houses down from my house on the sidewalk when I heard the loudest cracking, like a sheet of tile being cracked, but not falling or crashing to the ground.

I turned, looking south when I seen the road lift up and ripple like a wave towards me. There was a car that slammed on the brakes, and the woman got out of her car screaming.

I seen my mom standing in the archway of these massive Spanish archways we had in front of our house and she started screaming for me and Eli to hurry up, we were having a major earthquake and to get in the house under a doorway.

She grabbed us as we approached the house, and pulled us inside under the main doorway of the house.

We stood there, listening to the glasses we had hanging in the kitchen area and the pot rack over the center island in the kitchen.

It seemed like forever, but it was only 15 minutes. All of our neighbors came out and I remember a PG&E truck driving down the street with a loudspeaker saying “This is PG&E, please don’t go back into your houses until we come and check your dryers and pilot lights. Do not turn on any gas appliances until we get to you.

Then the neighbors came over and said the Bay Bridge collapsed. So we turned on Channel 2, KTVU, which I think everyone in the Bay Area watched religiously. Dennis Richmond and Elaine Corral came on for a special report.

The next day we went to Oakland because my dad, an alcoholic, had just gotten off the Cypress Structure to stop for a beer at La Borinqueña, a popular Oakland bar. He watched the freeway crumble behind him. He helped rescue people.

I’ll never forget, there was a Chevron gas truck in one section of the freeway that didn’t collapse, but maybe one foot in front and one foot in back was gone. Seriously, pure luck saved that driver.

I will never forget the smell of the blood as we stood looking at the Cypress Structure. It will always stay with me.

Pleasanton Court Pools

Judy McElearney Nobriga

I was inside my home in Pleasanton with my 10 year-old son, Scott. My other two children were outside on the court, playing and riding their bicycles.

As a native San Franciscan, I was familiar with earthquakes and this one felt much stronger than other ‘big’ ones. It seemed to go on for a long time (30 seconds is a long time with the movement of your home).

My son, who is generally very balanced and not threatened by much, said “Maaaaaaaaaaa oooooooommmmm”. That shook me into getting us both to a doorway where we were taught was the best place to be when inside. I knew my other children would have been safer outside.

We looked through the house and into the back yard and could see the pool making waves and spilling out into the culvert that carries excess water down the block and into the sewers. We have 8 pools in a court of 13 homes. As soon as it was safe, we went outside to check on the children. We saw water gushing down the street from other pools that had emptied and overflowed.

My neighbor had rushed outside to gather all the children and check on them. Another neighbor stood in his doorway, and to bring his personality forward, we heard him singing: “I feel the earth move under my feet!” Yes, levity to a scary situation.

I looked down the block at the house on the corner being built. It was being framed and the workers were still there, on the 3rd story, being rocked and holding on.

Grateful to have all my children safe, I called my husband. He was also safe. My Mom called me to let me know the Carquinez Bridge had fallen. Oh, no! When I got the television on, I realized it was the Bay Bridge, not the Carquinez!

The telephones went silent locally. I had only a short window of time before they did not work within the Bay Area. We later made a plan to call a friend who lives across the country to let each other know we were safe should this happen again.

Hearing other stories, I remembered a funny one. My girlfriend was pregnant with her son, Brendan. She was just leaving work and started putting her key into the car lock when she felt woozy. She said she felt faint…not realizing it was the earthquake.

On The Air

Wendy Tokuda

I was at Candlestick Park, field anchoring for the World Series, when the shaking started. When the masts on the news vans began to sway, we moved to a safe area and could see the concrete parking lot roll in waves like Jell-O. Then people started leaving the stadium in droves, everyone scared and anxious about loved ones.

Sports Anchor and great guy, Wayne Walker, came out to join our news crew and we broadcast from Candlestick when we were able to get a signal. The early reports coming in were often inaccurate, for example- we heard that the bay bridge had collapsed.

As it got dark, we drove back to the station- it was kind of surreal; quiet and dark with no streetlights and no one on the streets. Then, I joined Dave McElhatton on the update desk in the newsroom. Power was out, so the engineers used generators to get us on the air. I was sitting next to the sweetest man in television and we were both able to get ahold of our families to make sure all was okay. My daughters were in grade school- the five year old was at home with our sitter, my husband at the time picked up our eight year old from Hebrew school. Joe Fonzi joined us and talked about the scene inside the stadium. Once we knew our families were safe, we could really get to work.

We were on the air into the wee hours, getting updates from fire and police, and phone calls from people all over the Bay Area telling us what was happening in their neighborhood. People were excited (not in a good way), scared, and often kind of in shock. Soon we were able to get a wider picture of the areas worst hit– the Marina, the Cypress, and Santa Cruz. It was a real lesson in the way earthquakes can work: liquefaction, unreinforced concrete = a problem, the more serious damage spread out in pockets across the bay area.

Kate Kelly and Loren Nancarrow took over, and one of our engineers who lived a couple of blocks away let me sleep on his couch. In the morning, I went back, wearing the same blouse I had stored at the station, because it was cotton and comfortable and like, who cares?

In the light of day, the damage was clearer and the story turned to the heroism of some, and the kindness of many. That was extraordinary- how people came together in the Bay Area in a way we’d never seen before.

Yarn Supply Store

Indigo Som

I was a few months out of Cal, living in Emeryville, and working at the yarn supply store Straw Into Gold, in an old 2-story warehouse at the corner of San Pablo & Ashby (Berkeley). My job was upstairs, skeining yarn for wholesale. I rode the 72 bus to work, where the bus stop was right in front of the store. Just after 5pm that day, I glanced at the clock & thought, “I’ll finish up and catch the 5:08 bus home.”

Suddenly I heard a loud series of thumps across the ceiling. Why was someone running on the roof? Then it seemed an elephant ran across—my first inkling that it might be an earthquake. I looked out the window to see if anything was moving, and then all hell broke loose. I dove under the worktable, where a huge heavy carton of yarn was stored; normally I had to struggle with my whole body to budge it, but now I shoved it right out of my way with one hand.

Having grown up in the Bay Area, I had “the position” drilled into my head, but like everyone else I knew, I had always been too cool to use it. Terrified, I crouched into a ball, tucked my head down, and folded my arms around my head. I listened to everything falling around me and prayed, “Please stop, please just make it stop”.

Eventually the world stilled into quiet. One coworker let out a “Whooooooo!” and someone else called, “Everyone alright?” We all crept out of our hiding places. The yarn skeining machine had fallen over onto my worktable. A window pane had shattered. The tall warehouse shelves had gone parallelogram, squeezing soft bags of yarn with them. Elsewhere, hundreds of cones of yarn had fallen into heaps on the floor. I was glad I worked in a place with mostly soft, light things. Seeing that everyone was okay, I booked it on out of there and caught my bus, which was miraculously still on time.

Two guys in the back were talking mortality: “Yeah, you never know when your time is gonna come…” “Anything can happen….” As we traveled south on San Pablo, a plume of black smoke billowed up from downtown Berkeley.

Back home, my downstairs neighbor ran up to me: “I think your water heater is leaking into my apartment!” I went up, shut off the water heater, put down some rags, and looked around for other damage. My vintage glass bottles had tumbled safely from a windowsill onto my bed below; they never went back up there after that. A jar of red lentils was broken on the pantry floor. Phones & electricity were out. Everything else seemed alright.

My other downstairs neighbors invited me to join them for dinner in the backyard; they were preserving calm and routine for their toddler. I was sitting with them, still too freaked out to eat, when the guy from next door, a constant jokester, came over and said, “The Bay Bridge fell down.” He had to repeat himself 4 or 5 times before we believed him.

I spent the rest of the evening trying to call family and friends. I didn’t know where my housemate was. Every time I managed to calm down, another aftershock would make me leap out of my skin all over again. Then I remembered my scary avalanche dream from the night before, which freaked me out even more. I’ve never been the same about earthquakes since.

From CCAC to the Cypress Structure

Jennifer Cobb

I was at CCAC on the south side of the campus on October 17th. We were working on a project outside on the edge of a building built up high on bedrock, so we saw the earthquake before we felt it. Someone remarked that the Safeway sign was moving back and forth, and as we looked up to see it, we began to feel the quake. It felt small at first, but what made an impact was how long it lasted. Usually earthquakes are over before you really have time to think about them, but there was enough time to process it, worry about it and begin to panic a little.

CCAC quake 1989

After it ended, the building we were in was OK and so we started to move on like nothing had happened. We initially had no idea of the extent of the situation until someone came running up to say that the Bay Bridge had collapsed and the school was closing. A few minutes later, the sirens started and they never seemed to stop that entire evening.

What I remember most about the earthquake is the sirens–every time I’m somewhere where there are multiple first responder responses it takes me back for a bit. We quickly realized that there weren’t many options in terms of leaving. BART was closed, the Caldecott tunnel was closed and the Bay Bridge was closed. Several of us ended up staying with another student whose brother lived close by. He was closer to the Cypress structure than CCAC was and I think that’s why it seemed like the sirens never ended. We huddled together and watched the images on TV most of the night then early the next morning drove the short distance to the structure because it seemed unreal on TV.

The devastation was unbelievable. There was also an odor that I’ll never forget from the fire (and what it was unfortunately consuming). The freeway was buckled and twisted and there were first responders everywhere. We drove through downtown Oakland and there were mannequins all over the street from the broken department store windows like corpses.

I don’t remember exactly when I was able to go home but I do remember San Francisco the first few days after the earthquake–the streets were eerily quiet–very few people around and there was an oppressive silence. I worked in a photo lab at the time and over the next few weeks thousands of images poured in from customers, the CHP and various governmental agencies. For weeks I couldn’t get away from it. Then life started up again and we all moved on.

The firestorm in the Oakland Hills two year later brought it all back again–it wasn’t the earthquake that was the scary part–it was the aftermath, the uncertainty, the shock–not knowing what was damaged and who was hurt, the sheer enormity of the collapse of the Cypress Structure and that the Bay Bridge had actually failed. That same shock and uncertainty was felt as we watched Oakland burn.

Another thing that is seared in my brain is how differently individual people respond to shocking incidents. Once we realized the enormity of the situation everyone’s tone changed–this was serious. I remember trying to get a hold of someone at the Maximum Rock and Roll house in Noe Valley to see how they were there. Harry answered the phone and all he could say repeatedly was that Double Rainbow on 24th St. had lost power and they were giving everyone free ice cream. He said this joyfully. I remember thinking–the bridge has collapsed and people are burning to death on the Cypress structure–this is not about ice cream! I think we all just dealt with it in our own way.

Upper Deck Westbound

Kathy August

It’s the kind of day you never forget – right up there with the day Kennedy was shot or when the Challenger Space Shuttle went down.

I was on the Bay Bridge, traveling with my mother, my youngest brother and my son, who turned 6 months old that day. My other brother Kent, his wife, two young sons and their nanny (from Switzerland), had all just arrived from North Carolina. They had moved several years earlier from the Bay Area and were very excited to be making a return visit. They were staying at a small hotel/B&B just off of Fell Street. We were meeting them for dinner, and of course, to watch The Game. My brother Kraig was very concerned about not missing even a minute of the game, and to that end, brought a pocket sized transistor radio with him. The plan was to get some food that we could take back to the B&B so the little boys (age 2 & 4) could play and we could watch the game. He brought the radio to listen to every minute of the game, even when they went to get us food!

We had a little bit of a late start. We were on the upper deck of the Bay Bridge, just past the cantilever section. Very suddenly, we felt a very strong hit, like someone hit us from behind. But no one had. We screamed. Our car jumped into the next lane. In just a few seconds the day, the week, everything had changed. We immediately tried to change from the baseball game on the radio to KGO to get the latest news. First we thought a tanker had hit a pylon under the bridge, then we looked for a “mushroom cloud”. Had someone bombed us? No radio reception. Everything went blank. We kept driving – thank God my brother was driving – all of the digital signs on the bridge and all clocks were off. We couldn’t see any lights. We kept creeping along and made our way to Fell Street. An old African American man was walking up the street and my brother yelled out to him, “Was that an earthquake?” He yelled back “What the F_ _ _ do you think?!” We began to see buildings that were crumbled, frantic people crying, still no lights, and fear began to set in.

We made our way to the B&B. We found my brother and family outside. We hugged, held on, and cried. We all talked at once. What a way to return to San Francisco. Their nanny from Switzerland had never been to SF. She was a mess. When it was safe to enter the B&B we did and tried to regroup. My brothers took off on foot to try and get some dinner. They found a pizza place open. They had real brick ovens with coals! Didn’t need to rely on electricity. They waited for about 1 1/2 hours in line and finally brought back food. My son, Thomas, was still drinking baby formula. Of course, our intent was not to spend the night when we set out for the evening, so we didn’t have enough formula with us. My brothers found a corner market later that evening, the whole stores contents on the floor, and rummaged through it and found baby formula for me!

We spent the night with my brother. All of the bridges were closed and we were afraid to move. Blankets were brought to us from the manager, and he was very kind to us. He checked several times to make sure we were all doing well and to see if we needed anything.

That small transistor radio became our lifeline. All of the adults were sitting in a circle around it, like a campfire. If not for the game, my brother would never have brought the radio! It was many hours into the night before electricity was restored and we could watch this event unfold. My young nephews didn’t understand any of it. They were in awe of all of the fire trucks, sirens, and fires they could see from the windows. They sat by the windows until they fell asleep counting fire trucks. Everyone sees things so differently.

We finally crept home the next day by way of the Golden Gate Bridge to the Richmond Bridge and then to Walnut Creek. The house was a mess. Kitchen drawers all pulled out, the TV cabinet had rolled into the middle of the family room, my jewelry box had spilled all over the floor, and dishes broken. We were all safe. I watched news all day for two days. Thank God we were all safe.

Adobo in Union City

Monica Espiritu

I had just turned 25. I was hanging out with my folks for an early dinner in front of the television in their little Union City house. Like most people in the Bay Area, we planned on watching the A’s and the Giants, just the three of us. Several people in their neighborhood pulled into their driveways around 4:30pm. My parents were already finished cooking dinner by the time I walked in the house.

My dad and I were in the kitchen spooning rice, adobo and vegetables into bowls for the dinner table when suddenly a rumbling began. My parents had experienced earthquakes in their youth in the Philippines. As a Bay Area kid, I’d gone through a handful of drills. In high school, I accused a kid in math class of kicking the back of my chair when in actuality we were in the midst of an earthquake, but I knew to jump under my desk when he said, “It wasn’t me!”

“Just another earthquake,” I thought in the nascent moments of the Loma Prieta.

I then found myself standing with my feet shoulder width apart, holding on to the counter and watching the lawn in the background roll in waves and my parents’ 25 foot mulberry tree sway. My dad set down the bowl he was carrying, kept his balance by holding onto the counter, and stared at the swaying tree. In my mind’s eye, the entire scene seemed to have moved in a weird suspended animation because I had enough time to glance in the other direction to the front yard through the living room’s picture window. I saw a couple of cars parked across the street ride asphalt waves. My mom was standing, slightly swaying, on our walkway watching the same scene.

After the rumbling and waves subsided, she came back in the house. My parents and I put the few books that tumbled off the family room shelves back in their usual places. We put all the food on the table. “Wow, that was a big one, ” my dad said nonchalantly. My mom and I agreed. We sat down to eat. My dad turned on the television as he had done hundreds of times in that house. We passed food and drinks back and forth to one another like another dinner we’d had together. Had we become desensitized to earthquakes?

Then, the clanging of silverware on plates and chitchat ceased as the image of the Cypress structure, flattened and with clouds of dust and debris surrounding it flashed on the TV screen. It brought a pall to my parents’ home. The Cypress structure where our family had driven time and time again since we relocated to the Bay Area from Hawaii. The stretch of Highway 17 that we loved because when my mom or dad drove on it at 60 miles an hour, we undulated. With the Cypress Structure in our little VW Squareback and later our Chevy Nova and VW Van. We used to ride the waves on that stretch of Highway 17 in our cars. It was suddenly gone and I felt my heart flattened along with it.

Bay Bridge

Jim Murray

I was driving just east of Yerba Buena Island when I felt like I had like had a flat tire and heard a loud clank like running over a large piece of steel. The traffic was stopping, and still I was not aware of anything special until I saw people getting out to their cars. Then Dave, riding shotgun in the car pool, said the bridge had fallen. I then remembered the “flat tire” bit from driving in a previous earthquake. We could see the piece of the upper deck, with the white lines, looking like a ramp to go to the upper deck about 50 yards in front of us. Some father with a baby wrapped in a blanket was running back to the island, which has always stuck in my head as the oddest thing I saw that day. It was a pink and white blanket. Anyway, our other engineer in the back seat suggested that we go up to see what happened. I prevailed, and we walked to the island.

bay bridge 1989

We arrived at the island just as an Alameda bound AC Transit bus was making the turn-off to head back towards San Francisco. The driver agreed to give us a ride back. I thought it would be back to the TransBay Terminal. As soon as the driver was westbound, he floored it, and he did not stop accelerating until his bus was off of all elevated highway. There was almost no traffic in either direction. He was going to get his Alameda passenger home, but he was not going to go over water at either the San Mateo or Dumbarton Bridges.

Traffic started building back, and by now, it was dark. Really dark, there was no electricity anywhere. Traffic crawled along the Alviso Milpitas Road, with no electricity there were no signals, ie everything was a four way stop. There was one unfortunate lady with us who looked more than eight months pregnant, but she was able to control her bladder with a lot of squirming. About 8 PM, we were roaring up the Nimitz. Another lady, at about Hayward, started screaming about God knows what to get off the bus, and she was left at a freeway ramp. There was a young man sitting in one of the cross seats in the bus with a transistor radio of the time plugged into his. He looked like he might have mildly developmently challenged, which is not the PC thing to say. He would blurt out the news updates. “The Marina is on fire.” “The freeway in Oakland has collapsed.” ETC. So we were hearing all the bad news as it hit the airways while on the bus.

The driver ran his route backwards, and got rid of his passengers in a completely darkened Alameda. He agreed to take us to the MacArthur BART Station because that was not far out his way and he was taking the bus home and would return it in the morning. Well, getting from Alameda to the BART station meant taking an underwater tunnel, which tonight, the driver did not like any better than bridges. The bus started accelerating a couple of blocks before the ramp down into the tunnel, through the tunnel and the up ramp into Oakland.

The Contra Costa County “bus bridge” was lined up when arrived, and we got on the lead bus just a bunch of folks, who got a ferry, arrive walking from Jack London Square. The bus left almost immediately thereafter. I got home about 10:30.

Pink Bike on Bancroft

Celine Parreñas Shimizu

As a Cal undergrad in 1989, I was 19 and working passionately, fervently and feverishly on a magazine I started by and about women of color. I got to campus at all hours on my pink, shimmery sleek gold bike, with a straightforward wire basket holding my bag, an over the shoulder tote, second hand, like the bike from Ashby Flea Market which cost $10. The only thing new was its bell. The bike got me from North Oakland to campus and my office at Eshleman Hall.

In those days, I dressed like a Persian carpet, thick corduroy patches, patterns mismatched and always like a bib on my chest, a big top hat with velvet flowers over long hair, and long skirts, gown-like and heavy or genie-like pants. The colors were all emerald green or ruby…and of course my uniform velvet or leather black. To ride to campus on my bike, I squeezed the bottoms of my skirt or pants, and tied them together like a scrunchy into itself.

At the time of the earthquake, I got to Bancroft, alongside cars on Telegraph, and I thought someone was tugging on my bike: I turned my head ready to say something, and no one was there. I looked up ahead of me and then got my boots down on the ground when I noticed the flagpoles on campus swaying super side-to-side, stretching so low almost to the ground. I knew then it was something extraordinary.

Clayton Cul-De-Sac

Shanna M.

In 1989 I was in the 5th grade and living in Clayton, in the Mt. Diablo foothills, on a cul-de-sac that ended at the border of Mt. Diablo State Park. There were maybe half a dozen families on the cul-de-sac that had children within a year or two of my age. It was wonderful.

Because it was so beautiful outside that day, I was next door in my friend’s front yard, playing a game of re-enacting the Nickelodeon show “Finders Keepers,” and then it hit. I’d felt a few quakes before… but this one made my stomach drop and my knees buckle. My surroundings appeared to gently roll up and down. I don’t really remember any noises.

My friend and I looked at each other, and while my mind was blank, her face crumpled into tears. Her dad burst out of the house laughing with a jolly “WOW that was a big one!!”

My mind stayed blank as I went into my house, which just felt like the thing to do… everything in the house seemed fine.
Then the news reports began.

The logic of the situation grew into a personal scare. My dad is an independent contractor who drives all over the Bay Area every day, and we had no idea where he was. The phones were out. He had a very early version of a cell phone– a huge module that had to be mounted on his dash and was all curly cords and unwieldy antennas– but with the network down it did us no good.

All we could think about was the chopper cam feeds of collapsed freeways. My older sister and some neighborhood friends and I sat on a curb for a few hours and talked and cried. It got dark.

Finally, around 10 PM, my dad gets home. Everything was alright. For us anyway.

The next day in school, we all spent an hour during class talking about our stories, and everyone else was alright in Clayton.

A few months later the classroom next door to us pulled a prank– we were in a portable building at the school and the floors were pretty light and hollow. The teacher next door cleverly had her students pound their feet to mimic an earthquake, starting small, then crescendoing and tapering off. We fell for it, until we could hear their laughing through the flimsy wall. They did it a few times until some of us realized that, even with the pounding of 30 pairs of 5th-grader feet, the lights weren’t swinging like they do during a quake.

To this day, if I’m not sure if it’s an earthquake or a heavy truck driving by, I look up at the lights to see if they’re swinging.