24 Hours with Walter

Suzanne T

I was studying at this cafe and the quake hit. It was the Meat Market cafe on 24th Street in Noe Valley. It was 1989, so I guess I was 25. I looked up and saw cracks spreading through the ceiling. Babies were screaming. Ducked under the table.

After the melee and shocks ended, everyone made their way out onto the sidewalk. At this time I struck up an earnest conversation with this guy about my age; his name was Walter and he had blonde dreadlocks and round John Lennon glasses. We formed an immediate bond.

We proceeded to wander down the street together where there were many displaced shop keepers with radios in from of their stores. We heard then that the bridge collapsed. We could see the fires burning in the Marina at a distance. We decided to investigate. Hopped into his car and drove through the presidio, stopping once so I could pee in the trees.

Everywhere was chaos. At the Marina we walked down streets having intense dialogue with displaced homeowners and a variety of disoriented people and walked to the edge of the water. By that time we were holding hands, naturally. When we got to the water we kissed.

We then decided that the best thing to do would be to get out of town, somewhere far away. He had a sleeping bag in his trunk. We drove south (stopping at a bar halfway to make some calls) to the beaches in Pescadero, and picked the longest, widest, most empty one, and laid out the bag. We slept under a full moon and cloudless sky. Of course we made love. It was beautiful, peaceful, and serene.

The next morning we went out to breakfast in Half Moon Bay, and I ate eggs while he read the paper. He then took me back to SF. I had been gone nearly 24 hours. He dropped me off and I never saw him again.

Retrieving Rose and Yaya

Reno Rapagnani

I was driving my car south on Divisadero Street when the car I was driving started rocking from front to back. I then looked to my right and I saw a wave that made the buildings rise and fall as the wave past through them. It was incomprehensible to see that happen. I then realized that we were having an earthquake: I immediately made a U turn and drove the opposite direction towards the Marina as my 2-year-old daughter, Rose, was there.

I got to the Marina and picked up Rose, as she had been with a family member. The scene on that block was unbelievable as gas from broken underground pipes was shooting like a jet through the broken street. The smell of gas was sickening and I expected an explosion at any moment.

As I got to the Marina, I realized that Mayor Art Agnos’ mother lived just a couple of blocks away from where I was, so I drove to Fillmore Street where I discovered that “Yaya” was trapped in her apartment. (I was the detail leader for Mayor Agnos.)

Yaya was stuck inside her home, as her front door was jammed because her building had settled. I was able to force the door open and I grabbed her hand. I wrote on the front door using her lipstick, “I GOT YAYA– RENO.”

I placed the Mayor’s mother in the car with my daughter. I then drove directly into the intersection that we all saw on TV with buildings on fire and other buildings collapsed onto the street.

It took several hours to drive the Mayor’s mother to the Mayor’s house and for the entire ride, Rose and Yaya were speechless. (If you know Rose, that was an amazing event.) We had a whole bunch of Guardian Angels with us that day.

Game Three

Leanna M. Dawydiak

My memories of the Loma Prieta quake are so vivid that it could have happened yesterday.

The day of the quake, I had been looking forward to going to World Series Game 3 at Candlestick Park. I had great seats because my husband, Reno Rapagnani, was the Chief of Security for the Mayor of San Francisco, Art Agnos, so I was going to get to sit with his staff just left of home plate along the third base line. I had driven out there with my father Gene Dawydiak, stepson Reno Jr. and my sister-in-law Diane: Gene and Reno Jr. were sitting in the upper deck but Diane was below with me. We had planned to meet back at the car after the game we were sure we were going to win. Reno was busy handling things for the Mayor and I had no idea where he was.

In any case, just before the game was to start, I was looking out towards the Sony Jumbotron and suddenly I felt like there was movement under my feet and the stadium seemed to move in a circular direction; a shift, if you will, and I think it was towards the right. I could actually SEE the movement. I can only describe it like Candlestick Park was a cup on a saucer and someone was twisting the cup on top of the saucer. Being a native San Franciscan, I knew we had just had an earthquake, but I didn’t worry too much as I had been through many in my life. I think it was the “neophytes” who alerted me that this was no regular earthquake so I got moving, trying to make my way up to where my dad was sitting.

When I got to my dad’s seats, he and my stepson were sitting there like nothing had happened. I told my dad, “We need to go, this was a bad one.” He said, “You’re overreacting… the game will start any minute.” All this, in spite of the fact that both teams and their families were all down on the field holding onto each other and not at all looking like they were ready to play baseball. I tried telling my dad, “Look, the Jumbotron isn’t even working…There’s no game, Pa.”

World Series Game 3 1989

I finally got my dad to move by saying, “Let’s go down to the cop substation and see what’s up.” I was an officer in the SFPD and I knew my dad would come with me if I told him we were going to where the cops were. Sure enough, that did the trick and we found a quick route to the substation. On our way there, someone in front of us had a portable TV, which showed the Bay Bridge collapse and all the people that were trapped. After seeing that, we all knew that we had to get out of Candlestick Park in the event there were aftershocks that might bring the stadium down.

It seemed to take forever to get to our car, and then it was a very slow trek back to my parents’ house in the Richmond District. In fact, when it rains it pours, as they say, as my car started to overheat, which it never had done before. I had no idea where my husband was and worse, where my 2 year old daughter was: she was with her “surrogate” mother/babysitter, who lived on Webster Street near the Safeway in the Marina (where, as we found out later, took the worst of it).

When Reno finally got to our daughter, he couldn’t get “Mama Rosie” and Frank to leave because Frank was frantically looking all over the house for cash he had hidden all over the place (not unusual for old-fashioned Italians to do). I think my mother eventually got them out.

After dropping my father off at home, I knew I had to get to my house and make sure it was secure; this was on Museum way near the Randall Museum. Once I saw things were fine, I immediately suited up in my SFPD uniform and headed to the Hall of Justice as the call had gone out that any off-duty officer who could get into the City was to report ASAP.

I could write so much more about my duty on 6th and Stevenson…my “guarding” the Giants when they came to the Moscone Center to visit people who were homeless for the time being and getting to specifically “guard” my hero, Will Clark, who towered over me. I had to warn them that the people in the Moscone Center weren’t like the ones in the Marina, but that it was more like the inside of a prison with there being knife fights and the like.

Marina Green

Karl Brecht

I was 4 years old during the 1989 quake. I remember watching the TV shut off suddenly, and while I shouted “Hey!”, the shaking started. I had never remembered the ground shaking before, I remember the fear I felt; I remember hearing the walls crack open and a siren wailing, and my mother screaming at me but I can’t remember what she said.

When the shaking stopped, my mom turned on the radio in our kitchen after she got us together. She found out that all residents of the Marina district were being evacuated to the Marina Green. I remember crying. My mom had an earthquake kit: she grabbed that along with my one-year-old sister and me, and pushed us out to the Marina Green.

I remember my neighborhood being torn up, and more sirens, lots more sirens. I remember waiting a long time, and my mother crying when my dad finally found us out there on the Green. I remember granola bars, and taking showers in trucks.

Eventually life became normal again, but you don’t forget; you can’t.