25 Years Ago the Ground Shook | The 1989 Earthquake Series
It seems like only yesterday, but it was a quarter of a century ago that the ground violently shook, like a dog shaking off water, collapsing bridges and highways and houses and fences, and postponing the World Series for ten days.
1989 San Francisco Earthquake (Live)
ABC Coverage Game 3 of the World Series
It was a Tuesday, October 17, 1989, 5:04:15 p.m., and I had just stepped out of the shower. The television was on in the family room to our local ABC affiliate, as the pre-game coverage had just started and Game 3 of the World Series was minutes away. A friend was coming over to watch the game, but he was running a little late.
It wasn’t just any World Series for us in the San Francisco Bay Area, it was the ‘Battle of the Bay,’ both of our professional baseball teams were battling it out, the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics. It was a big deal. If you weren’t at the game, you had a television or a radio on to follow the game. And, yet, a second later at 5:04:16 p.m., it was no longer a big deal.
If you live out here long enough, you will experience dozens and dozens of smaller trembles, nothing to think twice about, except that they make you a bit complacent. I remember, somewhere between 1988 and 1989, experiencing an earthquake from my office on the umpteenth floor of an all-glass building in the heart of Silicon Valley, blocks from where Levi’s Stadium now sits. I was on a phone call looking out my glass walls when suddenly the Great America amusement park rides I normally saw from my perch were swinging out of view. People in the office started calling out “Earthquake, earthquake!” and I apologized to my client on the east coast, let him know that we were having an earthquake, and I would have to call him back. I then ducked under my desk and realized two of my walls were glass, floor to ceiling, and I was very high up. “Next time,” I thought, “I should stand under a door frame in the hallway away from the glass” and nonchalantly waited for the shaking and the swinging building to stop. We evacuated the building by walking down a million flights of stairs – well, it felt like a million, the fire department inspected everything, I was a bit annoyed at the interruption, and life went on.
1989 San Francisco Earthquake
Compilation of Videos from Bay Area
However, proximity in time to a couple of decent-sized earthquakes in the South Bay just two months earlier and the summer before, resulting in some damage, made me take notice on October 17th.
The moment my second foot stepped out of the shower and touched the floor, the earthquake began. I froze for a second, like we all tend to do out here, quickly gauging if it was worth taking cover. It only took a second or two to realize that this earthquake was going to be something serious. Wrapped in a towel, I flung the bathroom door open and ran down the two hallways toward the very large and heavy dining room table that I knew would withstand any ceiling collapse. As I ran past living room bookcases and the cupboards and the china cabinet, I realized that books and cups and things were flying horizontally off their shelves, crossing in front of me, hitting me, like they were possessed.
And under the dining room table I stayed for what felt like an eternity, the longest 17 seconds I had ever experienced. There is a rumbling that accompanies an earthquake that is nearly as scary as the shaking itself… and then silence. Large earthquakes like to taunt you, with aftershocks, and there were quite a few that followed that day and night.
Hesitantly coming out from under the table, I looked around at the mess. Books, cups, dishes, littered the floor and hairline cracks marked the walls – all in a matter of seconds. I stepped outside to find my zombie neighbors walking around in stunned silence. I asked, “Is everyone okay? Does anyone need any help?” We were all dazed, but okay, as I looked around and noticed that strong, sturdy wood fences had toppled over; structure facades had broken off; chimney bricks were on the ground; large branches were on the street and lawns; car alarms were blaring; and I was in a towel. I quickly ran inside.
At that moment, standing on our lawns and quiet street, we had no idea how minor it would all seem when we learned the news of what our neighbors across the Bay Area had experienced: fires, split-open streets, collapsed homes, buildings, bridges, and highways, resulting in 67 dead and 3,757 injured.
My friend finally showed up about 15 minutes later. He was driving to my house when the earthquake hit. He said that suddenly his car started shuddering violently and he thought he had some flat tires. He pulled over, as other people began to pull over as well, and that’s when he realized that they were in the middle of an earthquake. They stood on the highway watching the trees and buildings swaying and then it slowly stopped. They all looked at each other, got back in their cars, and continued on their way.
The television signal was out for some time and all we could do was listen to the radio and the descriptions from reporters and witnesses. It had to be wrong. Neighbors would go in and out of their homes, collecting information and sharing it. It sounded impossibly horrific and yet later that night the evening television coverage would reveal that it was much worse and much more extensive than we could have imagined.
In a way, the World Series probably saved quite a few lives that night. The normally clogged Bay Area highways and bridges during the rush-hour evening commute were relatively light with traffic, as most people were at the game or somewhere watching the pre-game. I guess there is always a silver lining if you look for one.
Strange, how it feels like only yesterday and yet it was a lifetime ago.
This year, watching the Giants make it to the World Series again and the news media marking the 25th anniversary of the earthquake with graphic footage, well, it brought the memories back I had tucked away so neatly. My thoughts and prayers, however, are always with those who died and suffered that night, those who rescued and bore witness, and their families.
“Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
But there is no joy in Mudville…”
– excerpt from ‘Casey at the Bat’ by Ernest Lawrence Thayer
As for the San Francisco Giants, there was no joy in Mudville – they were swept by the Oakland A’s in that Battle-of-the-Bay Series, four games to none. The Oakland A’s have not won another World Series since. The Giants, on the other hand, fared much better, heading back to the World Series in a few days on October 21st, after winning the title in 2010 and 2012. Who knows, maybe there will be joy in Mudville yet again, in 2014. (Good luck Giants!)
1989 World Series Game 3 | ABC Pre-Game – Earthquake (Live)
Martie Hevia (c) All Rights Reserved
1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake Videos
1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake | KRON 4 Production
Surviving the San Francisco Earthquake of 1989 | National Geographic
Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989 | Video Montage from Around the Bay Area