30 Years Later
CHRONICLE: October 17, 1989 – 5:04 PM
Photography by: J.K. Nakata, United States Geological Survey
On October 17, 1989, at 5:04 pm, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake severely shook the San Francisco Bay Area. The Loma Prieta Earthquake was the largest earthquake to hit San Francisco since 1906. The violent force of the quake lasted 15 seconds, and when it was all over, sixty-three people perished while 3,757 were injured.
That was 30 years ago today but I still remember it as if it was yesterday. It was late Tuesday afternoon when I decided to leave work early to visit the main public library before heading home to watch game 3 of the 1989 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics. This was the first time the bay area rivals would meet in a World Series with game 3 taking place at Candlestick Park.
I left the financial district around 4:30 pm and caught the underground Muni at the Embarcadero station to Civic Center where I then walked the few blocks to the Main Public Library. I wasn’t inside the library for more than 10 minutes when the earthquake occurred.
I was standing in the hallway on the first floor, near the Periodical department. I had come to the library to do some research for a comic book series I was writing entitled Dread & Alive. I remember grabbing a book from the shelf and flipping through the pages when the earthquake struck without warning. It started with a little shaking which didn’t phase me.
My reaction was, “Oh, cool. An earthquake.” As I placed the book back on the shelf, the whole building suddenly shook violently, throwing books off the shelves onto me.
A man suddenly came running out of the Periodicals Department yelling “It’s the big one!” I watched him make the sign of the cross and dart down the hallway past me towards the front of the library. I followed his cue and ran down the hallway to exit the building. When I reached the end of the hallway, I looked up to see the ceiling crumbling before me. A large chunk of concrete crashed to the floor right beside me as I rounded the corner, headed for the front doors. It seemed like an eternity trying to get out of the building.
Once outside, I collected my nerves and breathed a sigh of relief. I was visibly shaken. I was standing far away from the library, I thought of my mother. I immediately searched for the nearest payphone (I didn’t own one of those new 10-inch cell phones worth $3,995) to call her. The closest payphone was a few blocks away on Van Ness Avenue.
I dialed my mother’s number and after a few rings, she picked up and said hello. I immediately told her that we just had a major earthquake. She responded, “I know. I’m watching it on the news. The news is saying that 1000’s have died.” At that moment, I knew that I was one of the lucky ones.
The Loma Prieta earthquake caused the collapse of the Cypress Street Viaduct (Nimitz Freeway) and brought down a top section of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The Marina district, which was built on a landfill mixture of sand and rubble and not bedrock, also suffered extensive damage. Because the earthquake hit during the TV pregame show before Game 3 of the 1989 World Series, the death toll remained at a low number. To this day, I will never forget where I was when the earth shook for 15 seconds!
Did You Know…
On Monday night (Oct 14, 2019), as I sat down to write this piece, two earthquakes struck the Bay Area. I kid you not. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the first quake measured 2.5 on the Richter scale and struck at 10:23 pm followed by a 4.5 temblor ten minutes later. How spooky is that?