On October 17, 1989, I left work an hour early, picked up my seven-year old kiddo from school and went home. Our plan was to cook some hot dogs on the BBQ and watch the third game of the World Series . My San Francisco Giants were playing her Oakland A’s, and while things weren’t going well for the Giants, the Series had moved to Candlestick Park. I was confident my guys would turn it around.
Before the game started, Kid was lounging on the sofa and lecturing me on the futility of rooting for the Giants in that Series. I was on the floor, surrounded by the remains of an Eagle that I hoped to reclaim. We tuned in to the game at 5:00pm, and minutes later there was a loud "THUD!" from the west wall. Had someone driven into the house?
I looked up and saw the bookcase on that wall rocking dangerously, so I leapt up to hold it steady. Looking out the window to my left, I saw the peach tree shaking oddly. When trees sway in the wind, it’s beautiful; this looked as if some giant fist was shaking the poor thing from underground. It was the eeriest thing I’ve ever seen. Truly.
Moments later, everything was still. The TV was a hissing static and showing snow. No ballgame there. My neighbor came over and the memory of his voice is still clear: "That was a bad one."
Then, military aircraft were flying overhead, and low — it looked (and sounded!) like they were right over the roof. I turned on the radio and got the full extent of what happened. The earthquake was a 7 — it had wrecked neighborhoods around the Bay and sparked several major fires. A section of the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge failed.
Worst of all, the Cypress Freeway collapsed and trapped scores of people in their cars.
Most of us know the drama from that day and the terrible loss of life. I am fortunate to have lived in the ‘burbs, away from the fullness of the disaster. What strikes me the most after all these years — in addition to how low those planes flew! — is the different responses. My neighbor was running around helping everyone check the gas mains . And my kid was under the desk. She learned in school to respond quickly, to get to a protective place and wait out the quake. I was standing there like a knucklehead, holding up a bookcase.
They were prepared and I was not.
Recalling Loma Prieta , I remember the fear and confusion I felt. I remember that peach tree shaking weirdly and my kid’s muffled reply from safety. I now remember also that I stood there not really knowing what to do.
Guided By History was begun to remember the 1906 San Francisco ‘quake and fire, and we blogged for a long time about preparedness. In the Archives, I looked up Wells Fargo’s news publication from that time and found the emphasis was on employee and customer safety, and getting things back to normal as soon as possible. The memory of Loma Prieta I now have, fully developed, is about being intelligent in advance..
Accepting that I did it all wrong, and that my seven-year old did it all right, is my first stop to getting prepared.
That, and getting “my kit” together!