Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Loma Prieta Earthquake - October 17, 1989

Twenty-one years ago today, I had just settled in to watch the third game of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics. The pregame warm-up was being telecast from Candlestick Park in San Francisco. It was 5 p.m. Pacific Time. When the t.v. screen suddenly went blank and didn't come back on, I thought something had happened to our t.v. until a switch to another channel showed it working fine. After several minutes the audio came back on ABC. It was then I learned there had been a major earthquake in San Francisco. When video was restored the sportscasters began showing live coverage of the damage.
One of the scenes I remember most vividly was the collapse of the freeway. The upper deck collapsed, crushing the cars on the lower deck.

The other scenes that captured my attention, and fear, were of the fires in the Marina District. One of the first things a person thinks of in any disaster is, "Who do I know there?" In my case, it was my friends, Gene and Kristina. At that time I was not familiar with the areas of San Francisco, but I was almost certain they had told me they lived in or near the Marina District. I tried calling them over the next few days to make sure they were o.k., but of course, the lines were down. In the meantime every news program was about the devastation, the deaths, the rescue attempts and the fires. I was finally able to contact Gene's daughter in Nebraska and learned that he and Kristina had not suffered injuries nor damage to their apartment. Thankfully, they were o.k.

When we visited Gene and Kristina in their Tucson home last February (pictured above), we happened to talk about that time and I heard a very moving first person account from Kristina.
She was still in her office at the hospital. Naturally her first thoughts were of her husband who was at home and whether or not he was alright. She wasn't able to reach him by phone. She set out on what was to be a long journey home.
Traffic was a complete snarl. The major routes were at a stand still. She found herself creeping along a lesser used route. It was start, stop, move ahead a few feet, stop, start.....After awhile she realized a man in the car next to hers had put down his window and was reaching out his hand to her. She lowered her car window, put her arm out and clasped the man's hand. The two cars continued on side-by-side for some time. Neither of the two hand holder's spoke. Words weren't necessary. They were two strangers dealing with the unknown consequences of a disaster offering one another a touch of humanity.

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