Monday, October 17, 2005


Sixteen years ago today, the ground I live on did not sit quite as still as it is now. The following is my firsthand account of the Loma Prieta Earthquake of October 17th, 1989, written November 1989. I have adjusted the text (written when I was in eighth grade) ever so slightly for readability.

Some details I didn't capture at the time:
When we did get the initial reports on the radio, we heard not that a section of the Bay Bridge had collapsed, but that the entire Bay Bridge had collapsed. Many of the television and radio stations lost power, and it took the better part of an hour to start getting accurate reports. For all the destruction in the area, I think the total damage to my own family amounted to a couple of shattered tchotchkes and some cleanup. Earthquake waves are directional, and the different sorts travel at different rates, hence the light shaking that preceeded the heavy shaking in our area.


The lunar eclipse was recently upstaged by a 7.0 earthquake. While my area was not hit too hard, Santa Cruz, near the epicenter, and the Marina District of San Francisco were. A section of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge collapsed. Mrs. Pierce (my 7th grade history teacher) reports having watched Santa Cruz topple. Apparently the interior of her house was total chaos following the quake.

The above-ground swimming pool behind the house next door split, flooding the neighbor's yard, and a friend of my father reported difficulty removing his cat from the ceiling. Another neighbor lost a 25-gallon fishtank all over her carpet.

My own experience with the quake is as follows: Grandma and Liz [my grandmother's sister-in-law] were upstairs with me when the shaking began. Grandma commented, "Looks like we're having a little earthquake here." The shaking became more intense, and she cried, "Looks like we're having a big earthquake here!" We all got into the doorway. When the shaking stopped, I guessed it had been at least a 7.0 and we agreed that it would be best to get outside.

The worst fear was in the few hours that followed, as we stood around in the street, with the neighbors, waiting for information from the radio stations that knew no more than any of us. Were we the rule or the exception? Nobody was certain what would happen next.

On Wednesday, school was closed, so they could clean up and check for damage. We did about the same thing at home: enter a room finding that various objects had fallen. After one of the smaller aftershocks, Mom commented to Liz, "Welcome to California." (Liz, visiting from the east coast, had never felt an earthquake before.)

The aftershocks have now gotten to be more of an annoyance than anything else. I finally start to calm down about rattling and such until another aftershock starts the fear back up again. Even the Stanford students [doing a health survey at my school at the time] were late because of it, but I only had to suit up for P.E. one day last week. Among their questions was a section on the quake. The rest of the questions were all the same boring and irrelevant health questions as before.


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