This coming Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake, and the articles and videos commemorating this devastating event are bringing back some haunted memories in the “I was there, I know” vein.
I was working as the editor of another trade magazine in an office at Grant and Geary in downtown San Francisco. It was a little after 5 p.m. and the staff and I were putting the final pieces together for our publication’s Tuesday deadline, getting ready to transmit pages to our printer in Sacramento.
Our office was actually a mezzanine above a foreign currency bank, and the floor was literally hanging from the ceiling.
I remember that I was looking forward to that night’s World Series game between the Giants and A’s at Candlestick. I wanted to get home as fast as possible.
The quake hit at 5:04 p.m. Our floor level started rolling violently, cracking plaster on the walls, shattering windows and knocking over everything from the shelves. The staff and I did what every human being would do in this situation: We froze.
It lasted only 15 seconds. There were maybe four or five of us there at the time and no one got injured. The hanging floor made it through, though, and we didn’t know how lucky we were at the time.
Outside, most of the brick from the first-floor façade of our 100-year-old building flooded down on Grant Street. As we filed outside, I remembered how quiet it was; it was eerie. Then the sirens started up and the night turned to chaos.
Luckily, I had driven to work that day and my car was at a nearby outdoor parking lot. The drive home – my wife and I had just purchased a condo on San Bruno Mountain in Daly City – was a test of dexterity, weaving in and out of rubble and wreckage, the smell of gas heavy. Once home the electricity was on and I could watch on television what was happening to the city and region: the Marina District fires, deaths from collapsed buildings in Santa Cruz, more deaths from the Bay Bridge collapse. Sixty-seven died that day.
A story in yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle put it all together again for me. It was written by veteran reporter/columnist Carl Nolte, who was actually one of my professors at the journalism school at San Francisco State University.
Nolte notes that the earthquake forced the cities to pass laws requiring the retrofitting of unreinforced masonry buildings, which is a good thing. Other seismic laws also went into effect the next few years. It also spurred Bay Bridge officials to build a replacement Bay Bridge, a project that is still going on 20 years later. Oh well, at least their intentions were good.
Feel free to post your Loma Prieta stories on this blog. I don’t know about you, but 20 years seems like yesterday when it comes to earthquakes…