De Anza 3

Randel K. Chow

I was working at Apple Computer in a building called De Anza 3, part of what was then Apple’s Cupertino campus (years before the Infinite Loop complex was built). I was getting ready to leave work to head to the guitar shop to meet my coworker, who had already gotten on the road.

At first, my colleagues and I thought the shaking was just one of those occasional moderate quakes. But this time, the tremor persisted, intensifying while all the lights and power went out and debris started falling from the ceiling. I ducked under the table in my cubicle, fearing the whole ceiling might collapse right on top of me. As I cowered under the table in the dark, the violent shaking continued for what felt like an eternity, although in reality it could not have been more than ten seconds.

As soon as the quake subsided, the frightening rumbling gave way to an eerie silence, one that was hard to ignore because of its stark contrast to the usual drone of computer fans to which we had grown accustomed. My colleagues and I emerged from our shelters and beheld shattered windows and a floor littered with ceiling fallout. We hastily made our way down the stairs from the second floor. I noticed that the stair railing had partially disconnected from the wall. We evacuated to the parking lot. Some folks turned on their car radios to listen to news broadcasts. We heard terrifying reports of collapsed freeways and raging fires from gas main explosions.

Meanwhile cars jammed De Anza Boulevard. The radio announced horrific gridlock on the freeways, so most of us felt it was more prudent to stay put I grew restless after an hour or so of waiting it out, and so I got into my car to brave the side streets (the radio traffic reports had warned that I-280 was nearly impassable). It was a most surreal experience, inching hopelessly among bumper-to-bumper traffic through the pitch black night as all street lamps were disabled by the mass power outage, the only illumination coming from the headlights of the endless parade of cars trapped in the snarl. After a frustrating ninety-minute journey from Cupertino to Willow Glen, I finally made it home.

Our management instructed us to stay home for the next two days. After that, each of us were allowed to enter the crippled building for only a few minutes, long enough to retrieve our belongings.

De Anza 3, the only Apple building damaged by the quake, was left uninhabitable with structural as well as water damage: this occurred on the fourth floor after the ceiling sprinklers were sheared by the violently shifting ceiling. The inhabitants of that building were relocated to various other Apple locations; De Anza 3 underwent repairs, and was out of commission for a year.

Redwood Estates

Redwood Estates

Laura Winter

My husband and I were both home that afternoon, as we had met with our realtor earlier after having recently made an offer on a house on the other side of the summit off of Laurel Road. We lived in “Downtown” Redwood Estates, right across the street from the grocery store and post office on Broadway.

redwood estates 1989

We were watching the baseball game on TV when it hit, and although we tried to get outside, we were repeatedly slammed to the ground. Longest 15 seconds ever; this was seriously violent shaking, especially as this was only 10 miles from the epicenter. I have never felt so helpless in my entire life. We lost every piece of glass we owned, but we were so fortunate. Our neighbor’s house burned to the ground and many houses there were uninhabitable afterwards. My in-laws had major structural damage and had three huge aquariums explode and flood the inside of their house next door to ours.

The next seven days were surreal; it was like living in a third world country: no power, no running water. Food wasn’t a problem, though. All the neighbors joined together to bring the food from the refrigerators & freezers and our grills to cook for the entire community. We really took care of each other in the aftermath. It didn’t matter if you had never met a particular neighbor before, if someone had a need, we made sure to fill it.

The national guard was sent up with canvas trailers of water we could use to flush our toilets and a tent for showers. The entire community was stuck up there as the CHP held a community meeting the next day: they told us we’d be arrested if we drove on Highway 17 if it wasn’t an emergency, as Caltrans had to assess the condition of the road.

None of the Santa Cruz Mountains communities had water for the next 4 months. Our antiquated water systems literally crumbled to bits.

About that house we were trying to buy…2 days after the quake, the Mercury News somehow managed to get the newspaper up to us. There was a color photograph on the front page of a home that had split into two with one half down in a ravine. I still remember the address: 24085 Schulties Road. It was the house we had fallen in love with, destroyed. The sellers had no insurance and they had to demolish.

No bank would lend for mountain property for a long time after that, so we had no choice but to head to the flatlands of San Jose, where we live in another neighborhood where people look after each other.

I still miss the beauty of the Santa Cruz mountains, but each earthquake we’ve had since then, I become unglued.

Terror in the Tub

Courtney Warren

My arms and legs extended in total relaxation as I lay soaking up warmth and listening to the echo of the water. The oldest of four, I’d enjoyed the freedom of alone time in the bath for a few years by the time I was eight, and it wasn’t unusual that the rest of my family might be occupied in other parts of our house on Ames Avenue in Palo Alto. I was so absorbed in the experience, maybe because it began in such a small personal bubble, submerged and closed off from everything, that I don’t remember whether family members were even home during the event (later, I learned they were).

With no apparent transition, the water went from soothing to sloshing. I sat abruptly. Miniature tidal waves lapped at my chest while I froze in place, trying to process what was happening. “Earthquake” didn’t cross my mind. In school they taught us guidelines for how to respond, but what it would feel like to be in a big quake was beyond my comprehension. My heart thumped so hard that I was only aware of the water’s movement, and not the earth shaking it.

We weren’t especially religious, though my family occasionally went to church, and I’d attended a church-run preschool. Imagination filled in holes in my vague understanding of Heaven and Hell. I thought about religion often in relation to my grandpa, who’d died of cancer in my lifetime, my brother’s leukemia, and kids we met through Touchstone, a support group for families of children with life-threatening diseases. I was keenly aware that children aren’t immune to horrible things, and this dictated how I interpreted what happened. As the bath rocked me to and fro, it was a supernatural experience. I could’ve started believing in ghosts, or aliens, or become a religious fanatic. Without the experience to understand it, my mind leapt to the most logical conclusion it could piece together: God was angry, and the world was ending (years later, I learned that my mom screamed, “IT’S THE APOCALYPSE!” at my four-year-old sister).

The world is ending. I’m going to die. I have to get out of here. These thoughts were screaming in my mind as I scrambled out of the tub, dripping wet, and ran like hell out the bathroom door, around corners, and down the long, carpeted hallway toward the front door.

Blinding heat rushed to my head, my chest was pounding and I can’t remember now if the earth was still shaking then – adrenaline had kicked in and it didn’t matter. I still didn’t understand what was happening as I grabbed the knob, burst through the door and out into the street.

I stood, a fleshy white spot on the dark asphalt, taking in the unexpected calm. Here, it didn’t feel like the world was ending. Everything was still. Up and down the street, I could see others had come out, too. Most of their faces were far away and fuzzy, but, like me, they stood quietly, looking around.

The dense, eerie silence crept through my veins and slowed my racing heart. Neighbors milled about along the road – dazed, but unhurt. I looked down at my body, confirming my continued existence, and relief and clarity washed over me. I was naked in the street, with all the neighbors there to see it, but I was alive.

Dumbarton Bridge

Michael Tebow

I was young during the Loma Prieta Quake. Turned 7 that year. My family lived in Newark, in the East Bay towards the south end of the bay. There was 6 of us total, mom and dad, my older sister, older brother, me and then my younger sister. All us siblings were two years apart, so you can imagine the crap my mother had to deal with. My mother grew up in Palo Alto, so most of our time was spent there, including doctors and dentists appointments. That day was a Tuesday; we were all headed back to Newark from the dentist. My mom was a stay-at-home mom, so a day spent with all of us was very stressful.

We were on 101 almost to the exit to get into 84 and make our way across the Dumbarton Bridge and head back to Newark. My mom was upset about the noise we were making and then felt her car shake. She cursed and pulled over and at the same time noticing a motorcyclist and other motorists pulling over as well. I think she all at once realized what was happening. As a California/Bay Area native she had felt earthquakes before, and having seen no damage in our immediate area, she pulled back onto the freeway and we continued home.

Not long after we got over the bridge did my mother realize how large and potentially deadly this earthquake had been for her four children. The KGO transmission towers that were a symbol to us kids as “we’re almost home” had been heavily damaged. My mother’s first thought was that she just took her four young kids over a bridge that might had been damaged as well. She later realized that the bridge was closed to traffic soon after we made it across. Mostly because of the severe damage to the SF-Oakland Bay Bridge.

We made it home without a scratch and realized the full destructive power of the earthquake. Our house was fine except for some cracked sheetrock and a few pictures that had fallen. Watching the news, we knew that we were extremely lucky.

KGO towers 1989

Highway 17

Jamie Batt

I was on the bus heading home after a day of school at Los Gatos High…we were about halfway up Hwy 17 when I noticed that something was amiss. I gazed out the bus window with a growing sense of confusion: the trees on the hillside to the right of the bus were swaying wildly- I couldn’t remember any wind that day, I looked out the left window and the confusion turned to awe and fright very quickly.

The cars on the other side of the road were rolling, and the center divide was cracking before my eyes. This is when I realized that the motion of the bus was not at all normal. The other kids on the bus were exclaiming and moving chaotically from one window to the next trying to figure out what was going on…the bus driver had stopped the bus but it was still moving, she kept telling us to stay calm and that everything would be OK.

Once the rolling stopped- the bus driver decided that she had to get us all to our bus stops and safely home…so up we went. The hardest area to traverse was on Summit Road where a giant fissure had opened up- but that bus driver was able to maneuver us safely around it and to the last stop.

When I made it home, everything in the house was on the floor: the wooden legs of my bed had scratched circles into the wood floor from the motion of the quake. I will never forget how out of control everything felt- or how small and insignificant I felt…nature at its scariest.

Downtown Santa Cruz was never the same after the quake. Some of my favorite old buildings were now blocks of rubble behind chain link fences…the buildings that eventually went up to take their place have no soul- no sense of history and time…I walk down the Pacific Garden Mall now, I don’t think it is even called that any more, and see everything that is missing…shadows of the past, and I feel an overwhelming sense of not right-ness.

I don’t visit Santa Cruz much any more. It just isn’t the same.

Fisher Middle School

Jessica H

My family had tickets to the World Series A’s v. Giants game. For some reason, we had switched them with friends to attend a later game. So we were at home in Los Gatos, adhering to our usual routine. To this day I’m grateful my 1989 quake experience was not at Candlestick. I’m sure it was freaky.

I was a 9 year old at soccer practice on the Fisher Middle School playing field when it hit. The earth started to roll and I was knocked off my feet. My teammates and I laughed as we tried to stand up and “surf” the quake. We were on a huge, open, grassy field. We thought it was good fun. After the earthquake passed, we were hustled by our coach over to the parking lot. Apparently practice was over and our parents would be picking us up early.

fisher middle school 1989

Mom arrived, looking truly shaken. She’d been downtown, taking the precious break from the kids to get her nails done. I’d find out later she had her shoes off, and had to navigate a large amount of broken glass. The brick salon, located in downtown Los Gatos, had a fair bit of damage, as did many of the buildings around it.

My 7 year old brother and I got in the car, not sure why she was so upset. As we drove the 1.5 miles home, we began to understand a little. Being just 9, my memory may be less than accurate, but I think the road pavement was cracked, drivers were behaving erratically, and things seemed confusingly out of place.

When we arrived home, our possessions were strewn everywhere. The chimney was half collapsed. The cat was missing. We’d find him hours later, behind the toilet, soaking wet, although we’ll never be sure why. The backyard pool was ⅔ full. It had turned into a wave, drenching the yard around it. The large armoire in my parents room had fallen over. My mom remarked anyone near it would have been crushed. All the glassware and china was broken.

The part of the quake I remember most was aftershocks. They kept coming for what seemed like forever. You never knew if it would be short, tiny one, or if it was the next big one. A small one meant playing it cool, hanging wherever you were at that moment. But if it seemed like it was a big one, you’d run to the nearest doorway for safety. It was hard to tell when to run. I think we slept in the yard that first night. We wondered if the trees might fall on us, but preferred them to a potentially collapsing house. It was stressful.

To this day, if I feel a certain kind of shaking or hear a rumbling noise, I tense up. Did you know you can hear an earthquake coming? It rolls toward you, ominous and imminent.

Stanford Co-op Playground

Lindsey T

I was 3 years old, in preschool at a family co-op on the Stanford Campus. At the time of the earthquake I was on the rickety, wooden deathtrap of a play structure that sagged when too many kids were on it at once and in retrospect shouldn’t have been able to withstand a strong wind, much less a 5.9 earthquake. (Unsurprisingly, in the ’80s everyone was less concerned with safety.) Like so many play structures, it was built to resemble a castle, and the vertical poles that held it up were carved into gentle points at the top – all the better for defending against an imaginary siege, perhaps.

When the shaking started I was on the top level of the castle, getting ready to go down the slide. I don’t remember being afraid or having any awareness that something major was happening, but I do have the most vivid visual memory of my pudgy baby hands grasping the poles on either side of the slide, and watching them sway in front of me.

In my mom’s retelling, she was so worried about finding me bewildered and traumatized by the event. After all, at 3 years old it’s a lot to make sense of. But by the time she made it from her office across campus to the co-op to pick me up, I was back on the slide, shrieking with glee. All in a day’s adventure at the castle, I guess.

Lying to Los Gatos PD

Kirsten Casey

I was raised in California, so I am no stranger to earthquakes. The week of eighth grade graduation, we had a 5.8 earthquake. During my braces removal, I ran out of the orthodontist’s second floor office. Standing on the balcony, watching the Salinas Valley sway, with a full dental dam in my mouth, I was not cool. But the earthquake didn’t scare me.

When I was twenty-two, beginning to teach at a school just behind Santa Clara University, the Loma Prieta earthquake struck the Bay Area. Sitting at my desk, grading papers, I heard it first. That unmistakable earthquake rumble. A handyman working in my room turned to me. It kept going. He said, “We need to get out.” We ran onto the parking lot at the center of campus. The daycare kids poured out too, screaming. The earth was a rolling, liquid force. When it ended, I was unaware how devastating that rolling had been. This was before cell phones. I called my fiancé, Mark, from school, and he told me that he was talking to a Palo Alto client who asked, “Can you feel this? We are having an earthquake.” Then the line went dead, and then he felt it.

We spent the afternoon trying to track down Mark’s sister, Julie, who moved in as my roommate, that day. She left a note on the kitchen table in our Los Gatos apartment saying she was heading to San Francisco and she would see me later on. Did I mention we didn’t have cell phones? She befriended a couple in a hotel lobby who actually knew her grandparents in Oregon, but all of the phone lines were dead.

Mark’s grandmother lived a block from the school, so we met there. During dinner, Mark’s uncle insisted that Julie’s photo was the only one swinging in the hallway photo gallery (this meant she was dead.) Julie was finally able to reach us by payphone (does the next generation know what this is?). Although relieved, we slept restlessly, awakened by several aftershocks. This earthquake scared me.

Road closures prevented me from returning to our apartment until the next morning, since we lived in Los Gatos, the epicenter. Entering the apartment was eerie. Every frame was at a severe angle to the left, and every cabinet was open. Pushed from the wall, the refrigerator doors were open, with contents spilled on the linoleum. Our new TV was face down across the room, and worst of all, the toilet was full of potpourri.

When Julie arrived home that morning, we cleaned, picked up glass, straightened frames, and ran out of the door anytime we felt a slight shift. In the afternoon, we walked out to assess the damage in town, and were stopped by a police officer asking if we were residents. I am not proud of what I did. (Call it earthquake hysteria.)

I am a rule follower, not a rebel. Yet, I lied to a cop. I made up an address in a restricted area of town, and he was really, really pissed. I don’t know what possessed me to do this. My future sister in law looked at me with shock, horror, and a little admiration. Before the Internet, and the constant stream of information, before everything could be answered by looking at a screen, we had to go out into the world and lie to cops. I lied because I loved that town, and I wanted to see what needed fixing. I lied because of morbid curiosity. I lied because this was the first time I understood that some things are beyond our control, especially when they have to do with fault lines.
los gatos 1989

Cupertino Flag Football

Mark Isero

When you’re a suburban high school sophomore, being a referee at a middle school flag football game is a good way to make some extra money. So there I was, on the field at Cupertino Junior High School, officiating away, trying to be authoritative, whistling plays dead, looking for penalties I didn’t know much about, when the shaking began.

flag football 1989

It was strong, of course, but not particularly scary, given the expansive field around me. I crouched down and turned around. The windows to homes across Homestead Road began to shake, and memory says they broke, but that’s probably false. The middle school football players stopped in the middle of the play, and after less than a minute of shock and confusion, the coaches decided to call the game.

For me, that meant getting home. Maybe the first step, I thought, was to call my parents from the pay phone near Mrs. Schaefer’s old typing classroom — just to say I was safe, and would it be possible to pick me up? But the lines weren’t working, and for some reason, I wasn’t particularly worried. So I walked the two miles home, noticing that few cars were on the road and that everything was a bit more eerie than normal.

Acorn Signs

Nobe Hendricsen

The strongest earthquake in area since 1906 and here we were. What a scare! It was 5:00 pm but we were still working at Acorn Signs, my shop on San Antonio Road in Palo Alto.

My husband Howard had called to say he was getting a massage and would swing by my shop after his massage so we could go to dinner. During his massage, he thought a train was going by but once he realized what it was, it was every man for himself! He jumped up and rushed to the doorway blocking any escape for the poor masseuse!

In the meantime, all power was off at Acorn and I tried to get info on the car radio but couldn’t get any news. Son Bill in Phoenix called to see if we were OK  and relayed what he was watching on TV regarding the damage, including the collapse of the span on the top deck of the Bay Bridge.

We had minimal problems in our home. Strange that the shaking had knocked spice bottles to the counter, but had somehow opened the cupboards, dumped the bottles and then closed again. Friend Robin’s parents’ condo in Los Gatos was in shambles. Large pieces of furniture went flying. Her mother, who had taken the day off and was in bed due to illness, had the scare of her life when their large armoire came crashing down at the foot of her bed. The kitchen floor was covered with all the broken china and glassware that flew out of the cupboards.