Earthquakes and Natural Disasters

Earthquake Memories Part 2

Tuesday October 17, 1989 dawned as a typical day in my senior year of high school. There was nothing out of the ordinary in my school day, other than excitement at the fact I was going to attend my first World Series game. I had an opportunity to go to the NLCS a little over a week earlier for the Pennant clinching Game 5 of the Giants vs. the Cubs. I remember in my Advanced Drama class that my teacher, Mrs. Jenkins mentioned that she also got tickets to the game and would be sitting in the same area that I was going to be in. I don’t recall how we got the tickets to the game, but I remember that my step-father at the time, Tom and I were slated to go to the game.

After school, I drove over to Tom’s office so that we could carpool to the game. I remember Tom was driving some random car from a car lot that he had worked with, so I don’t remember exactly which car we had taken. A key point was that we were low on gas to start, but since we were running a little behind schedule, we were going to get gas after the game. We also needed to take one of Tom’s clients to the Oakland International Airport before we could go to Candlestick Park, so we needed to head to San Francisco via I-880, the Nimitz Freeway. Normally, when traveling from Pleasanton to San Francisco, we would take the much nicer I-580 to the Bay Bridge.

Just before 4pm, we were at Oakland Airport dropping off Tom’s client and headed for San Francisco. We drove over I-880 via the Cypress Structure to the Bay Bridge. I remember whenever I drove on the Cypress Structure that it always reminded me of the opening in Taxi. Heading past the toll plaza over the Bay Bridge, I remember one side of the bridge had Giants banners and the other side had A’s banners. We headed over the upper deck and into the City, completing our journey over the bridge around 4:15. Tom and I proceeded to Candlestick Park parking lot, and ended up in one of the massive unpaved lots past the center field area of the park.

Our seats were in the Left field area, right in the front row! I was very excited once we realized where exactly the seats were. I remember to my left the huge scoreboard was a bit difficult to read, but that the Jumbotron was easily seen. Around 4:50 or so, Tom mentioned to me that he needed to go make a phone call. So for the next 10 minutes, I watched the Jumbotron and excitedly awaited the start of the pre-game festivities. Before I left the house, I had set the VCR in my room to record the game on ABC, just in case someone hit a home run and it landed in front of me, I would be on TV.

Just after 5:00pm, I remember thinking the following: The Giants were showing a video of “Great moments in Giant History” home video that was for sale. I remembered hearing something about Bob Welch and the last time he pitched, I think it was for the division win or something like that, there was an earthquake in the morning. I kid you not, but I was thinking about this, because Bob was scheduled to pitch game 3 that day. So as I am watching the video and thinking of this, I hear a load roar. At first, I thought I was at Shea Stadium in New York, because I thought it was a plane going overhead. Then all hell broke loose. The ground jerked violently, and instantly I knew we were having an earthquake. I was watching the scoreboard and Jumbotron and they all of a sudden went out. All the light standards in the stadium went out and I remember looking up at them and that the poles that held the light standards looked like rubber. 15 seconds later, the shaking stopped. We all looked at each other and was like “YEAH! GO GIANTS!” We all let out a cheer and waited for the game to continue.
Tom returned to the seats and asked if I was OK, and I said yeah. He remarked that he was in the concourse waiting to use the payphone when it shook and the whole thing moved 10 feet side to side. I am sure he was exaggerating a bit, but once it did move, everyone scattered. At this point, we did not know if the game was going to be played. There were no PA announcement at all, but one of the fans behind us had a radio and reports were beginning to trickle in. We heard it was possibly a m5-6. We then started to get reports that there were fires in SF and that the Bay Bridge had collapsed completely.

Tom and I noticed that the players were leaving and the balloons were being taken back off the field. We then decided to make for the exits and head home. Our first obsticle was that we could not remember exactly which car we had (after all it was not one of our regular cars) and where it was parked. Understandable after what happened, but still nerve wracking. Once in the car, we realized we had a bigger problem. KCBS was telling us that all the bridges were closed for inspection and power was out to most areas. This meant a much farther drive home via San Jose, and to boot we had not enough gas and we needed to find one with power.

We left Candlestick and headed south inch by inch. Traffic was incredible. After an hour or so, we finally got to a part of the peninsula that had power and was able to get gas for the car. A further two hours later, we passed the San Mateo Bridge, and a few minutes later, KCBS reported that the San Mateo had just been cleared for re-use. We decided to get off the freeway parking lot, and turn around. All the traffic was still going south to San Jose, and the Northbound 101 was empty. We quickly turned around and headed to the San Mateo Bridge and headed home. It was only about 35 minutes more before we got home to Pleasanton. I remember crossing the bridge and holding my breath. You could look at the lights of the cities around the Bay and see just how many people were without power. I remember thinking that in the Geologic time scale, missing the collapse of two structures by 45 minutes was cutting it close. Listening to the damage reports on the radio was vastly sobering, and the same time very interesting. I think that is why to this day, I love tuning into the radio or TV when earthquakes strike to see what is happening.

When we arrived in Pleasanton, Mom was relieved that we were safe (I don’t remember if we had called her before we got home). I walked up to my room and it looked like someone had just tossed it to the side. I wish I had taken some photos, but in the pre-digital era, I rarely had a loaded film camera around my room. All my dresser drawers were open and wall hangings were askew, but that was about it. A little later, I remember Mom asking me where my car was, and in a panic, I could not remember where I left it. Like trying to find our car at Candlestick, the routine things all got forgotten when the quake struck. Eventually, we remembered that it was at Tom’s office and we went to fetch it.

Eventually we went to bed and ended one of the days of my life I will never forget. I am amazed that I still remember these details 20 years later. I wish I had written things down and photographed better. My VCR Recording of the quake coverage was pretty cool to watch, but for some reason, my 17 yo self decided to record over the footage with the re-played Game 3 some 10 days later. I still regret not buying a new tape. The only bonus is that you can clearly see me when Matt Williams hit his home run mere feet from me in the 2nd inning.

I am glad that people are posting their videos on YouTube of the earthquake. It takes some effort to get those old VHS tapes converted, but I am glad that I can see footage that I actually still remember vividly!

Here are some of my favorites:
ABC’s Local coverage shortly after the quake
KXTV in Sacramento Live news when quake was happening
Footage from the game
The actual ABC Footage of the game when it happened.
The SF Chronicle Loma Prieta page