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.

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