Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Hodgepodge 353/365 - Loma Prieta Earthquake

Twenty-eight years ago, on October 17, 1989, at 5:04 p.m., Central California was hit with a 6.9-magnitude earthquake. Game 3 of the "Bay Bridge" World Series (Oakland A's vs. San Francisco Giants) was just starting up, so as soon as it happened, people all across the country knew.

David and I happened to be in Washington, DC. I don't remember how we learned about the quake. What I do remember is that very little actual "news" was reaching us, and that the epicenter of the temblor kept moving south in the reportage: from San Francisco to the Santa Cruz Mountains to Santa Cruz proper. Since we never heard a word about Monterey, we joked (ha ha) that it was simply gone. We didn't really believe that, but we did worry about our kitty, Tisiphone, who we'd left inside, thinking it wasn't entirely out of the question that she might have been crushed by a falling bookcase.

Eventually—the next day, or maybe even the day after—we reached our neighbors the Fryes, and Hal assured us that all was well: the kitty was fine (he was feeding her), and he'd turned off our water and gas just in case. All in all, Monterey suffered very little damage, being on solid granite. Santa Cruz to the north had more issues, and San Francisco and the East Bay as well: a fallen section of the Bay Bridge, collapse of the two-decker Nimitz Freeway in Oakland, liquefaction and fire in the Marina district, and of course crumbled buildings. Sixty-three people died, and 3,737 were injured.

A friend of mine was on the top deck of the Bay Bridge and noticed something odd going on up ahead, so he slowed way down to take a look. He claimed it was his experience as a river guide—you always get out and check the rapids before you run 'em—that saved him from driving straight off the fallen piece of pavement. He may have been exaggerating, but it's a good story. 

A diver who was cleaning the Kelp Forest tank of the Monterey Bay Aquarium reported that it sounded like a helicopter was landing on the surface, and he got the hell out of there. Others noted that the stone floor of the aquarium looked like it had become a set of rolling waves. A friend who was sitting at a stoplight said it felt like the four tires of the car were flattening in turn, making for a jerky little dance.

People who hiked to the very epicenter, in the Forest of Nisene Marks just south of Santa Cruz, said the destruction—trees scattered like toothpicks—was remarkable. Years later when we finally took ourselves to the spot, you could still seen some of the devastation.

The only significant earthquake I've ever experienced was the Sylmar–San Fernando Earthquake of 1971. It was 6.6 and occurred early in the morning: I awoke to find my bed, on casters, rolling wildly over the hardwood floor of my bedroom and my mother yelling to get up and into a doorway. Then it ended. That night we attended a chamber music concert near UCLA, and I remember an aftershock that sent the big glass chandeliers tinkling and swaying—and the chamber orchestra kept right on playing. Bravo!

I was a little sorry to miss the Loma Prieta Earthquake. But that said, I don't wish for any more big quakes—ever. Hear that, o gods of the seismic realm? Be kind.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing, isn’t it, how the stories of this experience would be real time now?