On this day, this afternoon, 27 years ago, became one of the most life-changing days I could remember. My family and I have been living in this country for only two years, and at such early time of our brand-new life, the wrath of the San Andreas1 awakened.
My then 9-year-old brother and the then 12-year-0ld me were on our way out, walking distance, to our local daycare center2 to pick up my then 4-year-old little sister. The daycare center was only a block away from our neighborhood, so it was just an easy walk for us. We left home at around 5:00 p.m., which was the time that the daycare classes are over and parents should be coming to pick the kids up. We just turned on the TV to watch the pre-game show for Game 3 of the MLB World Series when our local teams, the Oakland A’s and the San Francisco Giants, were squaring off against each other for the World Series trophy, and back then, it was a huge celebration for us Bay Areans everywhere.3
Nearby our neighborhood is a small-scale lounge known as the Silver Dollar.4 Because the place is open during nighttime, it was safe for us to cross its open parking lot. There weren’t any cars or any other nearby things that may consider being a danger. About 3-4 minutes later since we left the house and then reached the center of the parking lot, the earth began to shake. I almost stumbled on my feet but I was able to balance myself against the movement of the ground. My brother even attempted to run towards the sidewalk, but I called out to him quickly when the electric poles nearby began to shake. Fearing that one of them may eventually break and fall against the ground, with the electricity may cause an explosion that can potentially hit (or worse) my brother, he heard my voice, noticed the danger, and quickly ran back to where I was standing. We stood still in the middle of the parking lot, completely open space, and counted the seconds of its powerful movements. I counted about 13-14 seconds, which was the longest shaking we’ve ever experienced since we arrived in this country.5 While we waited for the shaking to stop, we even witnessed a lot of potted plants and mailboxes and trash bins of neighboring houses falling to the ground. We even heard a loud broken glass crash somewhere nearby, but we didn’t bother with it.
After those 13-14 seconds and that the movement stopped, my brother and I ran like the wind to the daycare center to see if anyone was alright. Thank goodness there wasn’t much damage over there and that everyone was safe. We were able to see our sister and she came to us crying because of the shaking. She even thought that maybe the ground swallowed us down already because she started to worry that we haven’t arrived there yet. We got home slowly and safely. When we arrived home, not much damage. A few of our photo frames and our framed paintings and even the wall clocks all fell to the ground, but other than that, nothing else was damaged.
We turned the TV back on to see what just happened. We couldn’t help but let our jaws drop when we saw the ongoing news, as well as that infamous siren playing through the TV screen with the words EBS – Emergency Broadcast System on them. All of the Bay Area, including the famous beach town of Santa Cruz (where the epicenter was located) and stretched to Fresno too. We thought about our parents then because they both worked in the cities where the earthquake struck its damage the most. Mom was in San Francisco, and Dad was in Berkeley. We saw these familiar scenes that even made us worry. Even until today, whenever we reach this day, those memories suddenly became fresh.
Where Mom could have been . . .
My mom worked at San Francisco Kaiser Permanente pharmacy as a pharmacy technician. We only had one car back then, so she took public transportation (BART) from South Hayward to San Francisco and back. If Mom was able to travel to work via car, she may have ended up on the Oakland Bay Bridge. She could have been one of the unfortunate cars that may have smashed by the upper deck or even dropped down to the bay when the road of the lower deck also broke into two like the one you see on this image. However, because she was taking public transportation, it was fortunate that she wasn’t. Still, the BART train goes underwater via a tunnel, and she could still be in danger. There may be a chance that the falling debris from the bridge may strike down the tunnel walls and then break apart, with the bay water flooding inside the tunnel, damage the train system when it gets mixed up with the electricity, which will cause a lot of explosions in the process too. She could have been either on the bridge or in that underwater tunnel when all of this happened. But we have to thank God that she wasn’t.
First, her work shift did not end until 6:30 p.m., so her work prevented her from getting into this drastic danger in the first place. Still, she was stuck in San Francisco, with nowhere else to go, no way to cross the bay to get home. Luckily, one of her co-workers who lived in Pacifica, one of the coastal beach towns south of San Francisco, offered to take my mom in and stay over at her place until it was finally safe to use public transportation for her to get home. She took her advice and stayed with her co-worker and her husband at a small house not too far from the beach. Still, it was dark and cold, and this was not a time for sightseeing. There might be an unexpected tsunami coming over their area, should the epicenter may end up under the ocean.6
Where Dad could have been . . .
Dad’s workplace in Berkeley was much further than Mom’s workplace in San Francisco, and therefore, he gets to drive our station wagon car. We were thankful that, just like Mom, his work shift did not end at 5:00 p.m. or something (his shift ended at 5:30, just some 25 minutes right after the earthquake), therefore he found himself stuck at the office building along with his boss and co-workers. Berkeley is just up north of Oakland, therefore it also suffered some critical damage. The roads were a complete mess, so much debris cluttered all over the place, and there was no way Dad could go home using his usual way.
He was even more shocked to learn that the (in)famous Cypress Structure in Oakland, the maze of freeways that acted as a human heart that takes East Bay commuters to the freeways leading to San Francisco, Oakland, and up north towards Berkeley, because if his shift ended early, he would have been crossing this structure and with the upper deck collapsing when the quake began, Dad could have been one of the unfortunate commuters smashed by the upper deck. Thank God he wasn’t.
High anxiety without the parents coming home . . .
We have this tradition of eating dinner with everyone present. But with no food, no adult supervision, and no phone lines working, we too felt we were trapped inside with nowhere else to go. We couldn’t help but wait and watch the news all night. As a 12-year-old eldest sibling, I did all I can to feed my younger siblings by making some simple sandwiches and serve orange juice for them, just to calm them down. My sister was crying for Mom, my brother worried more about Dad because of the collapse of the Cypress Structure and that he could’ve been one of the victims smashed by the upper deck. As for me, it was my duty to keep everyone calm, because all I could do from this point was to wait for them to come home.
Around 8:00 p.m., my dad was able to come home. It took him about an hour and a half to get home because he had to look for alternate safe routes to get home, knowing the freeways he would normally take were severely damaged. Close to midnight, my mom finally arrived home. Next day, both parents had to leave super-early, with Dad taking the longer ways to get to work and Mom taking the ferry to cross the bay from Alameda to San Francisco. We still went to school as usual because our schools did not suffer much damage, but the schools were more focused now towards earthquake safety, as well as counseling for kids whose families may have been heavily affected by that day.
There were about 60 casualties and some 3,800 people injured. Plenty of our landmarks and our arteries (freeways and highways) severely damaged. Of course, we didn’t forget the aftershocks after that day, which even made things worse for many of us. For me, that day felt like the world just ended, especially that I have a personal eyewitness account of this day of disaster. I thought that things like these only happen in the movies, before. Who would have thought that something like this, an earthquake of all things, can happen to my home, the places surrounding my home? No one. No one did.
I learned of the last great one, the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, in history class some time ago. I also learned of the very powerful San Andreas Fault. Crazy things started coming in my mind, such as being pulled into by a concrete quicksand and other types of fear. However, thanks to the counselors and more direct education on earthquake safety, we were prepared when an earthquake suddenly strikes. The bad part about this is that earthquakes can happen any time at any day. It’s not like with the annual hurricanes and tropical storms, where they can easily be detected by satellite and can predict easily on when they will arrive and strike. With earthquakes, seismic activity and richter scales aren’t enough, therefore it’s important for us to be really prepared and be aware of our surroundings.
Here I am, 27 years later, finally writing about this day. I’ve planned on writing about this for the longest time since I started blogging, but I seemed to have failed to do so. Finally, I have the time.
My mind is still fresh from that day, even today. Some people got hyped about last year’s San Andreas movie with Dwayne Johnson, but seriously, even though it’s fiction, the events from that movie actually can happen in real life. I’ve already tasted its warmups.
Here is my commemorative blog entry to this day. God bless the souls of those who perished by the Loma Prieta Earthquake and the families who lost their loved ones to that day. But in a way, I am also happy. My love and pride for the Bay Area has gotten stronger. We’ve had so much support from organizations, businesses, famous celebrities, and even foreign countries by sending their own share of aid to help us recover.
And yes, we have recovered. When will the next big one come? Obviously, we don’t know and we have no particular prediction at all. The only thing that we could do is to be prepared. There were already damaging earthquakes that followed, all taking place in SoCal, all caused by the wrath of San Andreas. Still, only one can wonder when will something like this occur again?
I just hope when that next big one happens, I wouldn’t be alive to experience it again.
On the sidenote...
- the fault, not the Dwayne Johnson movie [↩]
- that same spot where it once stood is now a small business building that houses a few local businesses including our neighborhood coffee shop and our small healthy smoothie/acai bowl shop [↩]
- October 17, 1989 was one of our “all Bay Area” days when both of our local baseball teams made it all the way to the World Series were now playing against each other for the coveted title. I’ll fast forward quickly. The A’s swept the Giants at Game 4 some weeks later after this day. [↩]
- the place has been long closed for so many years and yet nothing has been done with the place… [↩]
- We’ve had other earthquakes before, smaller ones that only last less than a second or 5 seconds even. [↩]
- and there really was a tsunami about ten minutes after the earthquake, down south at the Santa Cruz-Monterey area… [↩]