I was five years old when the earthquake hit, so it took me some time to remember things and even what I remember isn’t very much. We had just left Mexico City less than a year before the earthquake, starting out in Concord before my parents found this old apartment on 16th and Hoff, so we had very recently moved into San Francisco. My mom and dad had no idea we were about to experience our second earthquake in three years, with us having survived the huge one in Mexico City in 1986.
That evening, my mother was cooking dinner, hot dogs with jalapeño and onion. My dad was in the shower. It was his day off so he didn’t have to cross the bridge to work as a server at the Chevy’s in Berkeley. I was laying down on the bed watching cartoons, probably Ducktales, but I’m not really sure.
Suddenly, the TV, the bed, the whole house began to shake. Knowing it was an earthquake, my parents instantly sprinted from their respective locations in the kitchen and bathroom to grab me from the bedroom. They launched themselves through the door at the same time and I held onto their hands as they rushed us towards the exit.
As my mother was approaching the door, for some reason she turned around. In that moment, she saw that my father was completely naked, having completely forgotten that he’d just been in the shower moments before. “You’re not wearing anything!” she shouted.
My dad looked down at himself and rushed back to grab a towel.
Out on the street, all the neighbors were there. They were speaking Spanish to each other, hushed and nervous. Pops talked to the neighbors, clutching my small Go Bots towel with one hand and gesturing with the other, He occasionally shivered from the cold, his feet bare on the concrete. Everything and everyone was cast in a soft light as golden hour descended upon us. Mom trembled from both the cold and fear, holding onto me.
At some point, mom wasn’t sure if she had turned the stove off, so my dad had to run back. The stove was in fact still on, so our dinner was burnt. He turned it off.
We tried to resume business as usual shortly after that, but my dad’s shower was interrupted again with the aftershocks. My mother said the second time, the house leaned like a ship sinking into the sea. After that, Mom refused to go back into the house because she could still remember the chaos and terror of the Mexico City earthquake three years earlier, when the house nearly split apart. In that moment, she could still hear my grandma’s husband yelling “Throw me the kid!” as he motioned for them to drop my infant self from the second story.
When the aftershocks finally settled, we went to my uncle’s house in Concord. The Bay Bridge had fallen apart, so Pops sped through the San Mateo Bridge, hoping nothing would happen as we crossed. We spent the next few days in Concord and after that, none of my uncles in Concord wanted to visit us in San Francisco.
In 1989, I was working in the Visual Display department at Macy’s in downtown SF. We had a shop on the roof but we often worked outside on nice days.
We were getting ready for the Christmas season, which started in September, and I was painting the faces of some mannequins when they began to shake, almost falling off of the table that they were sitting on. I don’t even recall running to a doorway but just standing still in shock. The few of us on the roof just stood there hanging on to whatever we could and rode it out. I remember thinking, “Is it over yet? It’s got to be over soon.” It just felt like a long time.
When it stopped, I distinctly remember two things. My friends/colleagues immediately lighting up cigarettes to calm their nerves, and the naked couple standing in the window of a hotel nearby wondering who was rocking who.
The electricity never went back on in the Macy’s building after the quake and the generator didn’t work. So we all walked down the 9 or more flights of stairs in the dark and made our way out to Geary Street.
I was living in Oakland at that time and there was obviously no way that I was getting back home on Bart. I decided to walk to my brother’s house so started walking down 6th Street towards Harriet Street. There was a rupture of concrete zig-zagging down the middle of it- like the earth had ruptured and separated, which I suppose it did. That evening, we ended up at the Hotel Utah, the only drinking establishment open. Because there was no refrigeration, they had to get rid of their beer, and they had plenty of willing participants.
October 18th was my birthday. I spent the day riding my bike around the city with my then-boyfriend/now-husband. Glass windows blown out of the I-Magnin’s building and shattered all over the street, a strange sense of calm and quiet, giant cracks on concrete streets, so few cars and so many closed stores and shops were some of the memories that stand out to me. It was warm and eerie and the city was shut down in a way that I have never seen before to this day.
For many months following that quake, I had nightmares, waking up in the middle of the night thinking I had felt another.
I was a junior in high school in San Mateo, and on the Aragon High School swim team. Because of this, I ate four square meals per day. So around 4:45pm, I heated up a large slice of lasagna (which was not yet my dinner) in our first-ever microwave oven, popped in a tape of Spalding Gray’s Terrors of Pleasure in our Betamax, pulled the wired remote control across the dining table and sat down to my snack. My dog (a black lab) wandered around hoping for scraps.
At 5:04 pm I heard, and then felt, a strong rumbling with some vertical jerks, by far the strongest earthquake I had ever felt in my 16 years. I quickly ducked under our hefty table, grabbed the dog and sat him next to me, and remembering that my mother said that a falling TV can explode, reached up and switched it off.
The earthquake seemed to keep going for so long. At the other side of the house, my mother was trying to save her master’s thesis on our Macintosh SE before the power went out.
I have no idea what I had for dinner later.
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.
I remember Loma Prieta. I was almost 3 1/2 years old. I was in my Chinatown home, situated on a sturdy hill at Powell and Broadway. I remember standing at the bottom of our 26 step metal staircase next to my great Aunt Nellie. At the top was my grandma.
The door next to me was an old glass door with a wooden frame. We were getting ready to leave when it started shaking.
I looked up the stairs towards my grandma and asked, “What’s that?!?”
She replied, “It’s an earthquake.”
I said, “A what?”
And after the shaking stopped I ran up the stairs towards her.
I don’t think I was scared, but more in shock of feeling something so strange. I don’t remember additional details, but my grandma has told me we were going out shopping for groceries and that we ended up staying home instead. She also said not a single thing fell.
As I grew up, every time I visited the Academy of Sciences, my favorite thing was the earthquake simulator; I thought that thing was so cool. It wasn’t until I became a lot older than I realized how dangerous earthquakes were.
I lived in San Jose Brookdale Apts. I was sitting down to watch the World Series.
I had a bologna sandwich in one hand and a glass of milk in the other when it hit. I freaked, and threw the sandwich and milk while running to the hallway.
I watched as all of my Roseville Pottery collection crashed to the living room floor. I screamed “STOP!!” about a hundred times.
Afterwards, I tried to secure everything. Months later I found I had put a bunch of rubber bands in the ice trays in my freezer.
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. 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.
It’s been over 26 years since the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, and yet I still can hardly look at a photo of the Cooper House without getting a little emotional. I was there that day, in the weeks following the earthquake, when they brought it down with a wrecking ball and bulldozers. That day, tears flowed down the cheeks of many of the Santa Cruzans who had gathered to say their goodbyes to the grand old building, which had stood on the corner of Pacific Avenue and Cooper Street since 1894.
To this day, there are those who contend that the Cooper House didn’t have to be demolished, that the earthquake hadn’t truly damaged it completely beyond repair, as had been reported, and that it actually could’ve been saved. God knows there were no shortage of people who wanted to save it. Talk to anyone who spent any time at all in downtown Santa Cruz during the Cooper House years, and they will all no doubt have a story or two about good times spent there.
My earliest memory of the place dates back to the mid 60’s when I went there with my grandmother. I was about 7. Of course, in those days it wasn’t known as the Cooper House. It was still the Santa Cruz County Courthouse.
Many people mistakenly call the Loma Prieta quake the 1989 San Francisco earthquake. The epicenter of the earthquake, however, was actually in the redwood forest of Nicene Marks State Park in Santa Cruz County, roughly 80 miles south of San Francisco, and less than 10 miles from where I lived at the time, in the Live Oak area of Santa Cruz.
I was still working in radio back then, and, along with Eddie Hudson, was doing news for radio station KSCO, which was the official emergency broadcast network station for the Monterey Bay. We practically lived at the station for the next week, and at least one of us was on the air disseminating information round the clock.
I was never more proud to be a Santa Cruz native than I was in the week or so following the earthquake. People came together to help each other in a way I had never seen. Santa Cruz felt like more of a community than ever. So many people doing everything they could to be of service to others. But, as so often happens in times following such natural disasters, that beautiful collective of community spirit soon dissipated.
The memories of the of the quake itself and the days which followed, however, especially the day we all had to say goodbye to the Cooper House, will likely never really dissipate completely for anyone who was there. I know they certainly won’t for me.
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.
Daryl W. Johnson
I used to work in the Bay Area, often running the Cypress structure top and bottom, but in 1989 had been working in the North Bay Area for 2 years. I was working on a Victorian home salvage project in Valley Ford, and that day, I had removed much of the cross bracing under the house to replace dry rotted timbers and had a carpenter under the house adding bracing back as I jacked the house up to level it in sections.
When the earthquake hit, it was just as my then-GF had stopped by to bring me lunch. She and I both were rocking back and forth walking toward each other, wondering what was going on. My carpenter under the house yelled to me to stop jacking up the house and I yelled back to him, “It’s not me, it’s the whole world, get out of there!”
I looked out the window to see him darting out from the access panel and looked along Hwy 1, and the power poles were stirring and the hills were rolling. I about threw up, as did my GF.
We all got clear of the house and turned on the radios in our vehicles. Needless to say, I braced the house from the outside and left to see what had happened back in my city of Petaluma.