Tell me your story
My first earthquake ever occurred when I was in Peru, not in the San Francisco Bay Area. I had been invited to Tacna, in southern Peru right on the border with Chile, for the Christmas holidays. It was in late December or early January, 1977/1978 and I woke up in the middle of the night to a strong vibration.....It reminded me of a magic fingers bed, if you have ever been to a motel that offered those. As Tacna was in a mostly rural area, there were numerous farm animals around, and they all seemed to start making noise. There were no noticeable aftershocks, and the animals quieted down, and I went back to sleep.
In 1989, I was in the South of Market area of San Francisco, at the time of the earthquake. I had gone to a photography supply store to buy portfolios to store my photographic prints, as I had just finished the sequence in Photography at a local junior college (another one of my brilliant careers that never amounted to much). I was on a surface street, approaching the freeway onramp, when my car started to move up and down. I thought there was something wrong with the motor, but instead of turning it off, I ran a red light at an intersection, and then the movement stopped. I then realized that there had just been an earthquake. I was able to make my way onto the freeway and down the Peninsula to our home, where there was hardly any evidence that the earthquake had happened. I think that my parents and I were very lucky that there was no damage to the house, at least, none that has appeared to this day....
Martha G. Moore
I used to live in Southern California and have experienced many earthquakes. The worst one I felt was the Whitter earthquake in the 1980's (can't remember the exact year. I was working for Rockwell International in Seal Beach. During the quake many of us on the upper floors of the 8th story building rushed for doorways and cling to each other. Computer keyboards were falling off the tables. After it was all over I was one ofthe few who had to inspect the other floors of computer equipment because of our security clearances. We found banks of computers that moved 3 feet! For days after that we had to run diagnostics on all of the hard disc drives. It was a royal pain in the butt! Some of the other employees had to leave because their homes were damaged. I now live in Fresno and am glad I don't have to live with earthquakes anymore!
Hi! I don't know if this is the kind of thing you're looking for. It's a second person account, but when I was a child I heard it so often from my Grandmother and her sister that I can give it to you just about verbatim. At the time of the quake, my Grandmother, Ruth Ann FIELD, was 13 and living in the HARRISON home at 2131 Vallejo Street with her brother, sister, and mother, Camille Ruth (Harrison) FIELD. Mrs. FIELD was a very formidable woman. The picture I've attached was taken about ten years after the quake, but it clearly shows just how formidable she was. Here's my Grandmother's story:
"We had been watching the fire advance for what seemed like hours, although we had to sneak upstairs to do it. Mother didn't want us at the windows. People were coming up the street carrying bags, leading loaded wagons, even one pushing a wheel-barrow. We saw soldiers coming up the steps to our house and ran down to see what was happening. Two soldiers were at the door telling Mother we must evacuate the house as the fire was sure to reach our neighborhood and they were going to destroy the houses across the street in an attempt to stop it.
"Mother told the soldiers that no-one was to leave the house until they were all 'proper'. My mother was VERY English, VERY Victorian, and always VERY proper, . She ordered the soldiers to remain in the front hall (couldn't have soldiers in the parlor after all) while she took us upstairs to dress us suitably for going out. The soldiers tried to protest, but a glare from her silenced them, and they waited quietly by the door.
"Mother got us dressed while Clara [the maid] did our hair. We could hear explosions down the hill, but Mother would not allow us to hurry or get excited. When Mother was satisfied with our appearance, she assembled us in the hallway and ordered the soldiers to escort us to the Presidio, where 'the General will be sure to provide us with quarters'. One of the soldiers asked about our belongings, but Mother scathingly informed him we would not be paraded through the streets like beggars.
"So, we marched out the door - a soldier in front, a soldier behind, then the maids and the cook straggling in the rear. We paused only long enough for mother to lock the door, and headed up the street to the Presidio, where the General did, indeed, provide us with quarters.
"Fortunately, nothing happened to our house."
At the time of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake I was in San Francisco, but I never felt the quake. I'm not the only one; there were about 35 people in the bus I was riding, and none of them felt it either. At the time I was living in Oakland and working in San Francisco. I left work at about 4:30pm in hopes of getting home in time to watch the World Series game. (My sister, who had no television, was planning to meet me at my place for the game.)
When the quake hit, our bus was on the Bay Bridge, about a mile from where a piece of the bridge collapsed. But due to the curve of the bridge we couldn't see that. We were simply annoyed that the traffic had come to a complete stop. We were even more annoyed when, after a minute or two, people in front of us started getting out of the cars. We still had no idea what was going on, but it was clear that the bus wasn't going to be going anywhere for a while. Others started getting out of the bus, and eventually I did too. None of the other pedestrians on the bridge seemed to know what was going on any more than we did. I heard a few people say that "the bridge is collapsing". That sounded rather frightening, but the bridge certainly didn't seem to be collapsing.
We all walked back to Yerba Buena (an island in the middle of the Bay, which the bridge connects to) where I finally heard that there had been an earthquake. If you walked down the hill a little ways you could see, barely, the part of the bridge that had broken. By this time there were traffic cops trying to sort out the confusion of cars, turning them around to head back west. I hopped on another bus which took me back to San Francisco. My first concern there was to phone my sister, who I figured would be worried about me. Unfortunately I couldn't get back into the office, and all of the pay phones were mobbed. By the time I finally could get onto a phone all the lines were dead. So I sat around for a few hours, waiting to see if the BART (subway) would reopen. I read a magazine and wrote a few letters. BART didn't reopen that night (though it did run the very next day). Eventually I found my way back to Oakland by bus, via the Golden Gate and Richmond-San Rafael bridges, and I got home at about 10:30pm.
Over the next few days I couldn't help noticing how exaggerated the national media coverage was -- even a few days after the fact, when the true figures were better known. The earthquake was severe, but from the news reports one might have thought that half the city was leveled, which was far from the truth. My friends from out of town were much more concerned than there was really reason to be. The final death toll was about 60 (trivial compared to recent earthquakes in Armenia, Iran and Mexico), but most people remembered only the earlier alarmist headlines which were never really corrected. The hurricane on the other side of the country that same year destroyed more homes than the earthquake did, but I guess hurricanes aren't as sexy as earthquakes.
I was also very disgusted at the national media for its persistence in calling it the "San Francisco earthquake", in spite of the fact that 50 of the 60 deaths took place across the Bay in Oakland, and the most severe damage took place in Santa Cruz, more than 50 miles away. It often seems that San Francisco has an imperialistic attitude toward the rest of northern California, with any event from Vallejo to Monterey being claimed as "in San Francisco".
Mark D Lew
I was living in Brookline, MA when I must have been between 7 and 12 years old (I am now 70). I was asleep and started dreaming that an elephant was walking around in the house. When I woke up, the whole house was shaking. We were having an earthquake, which do happen in Boston. In the 1700's, there was a very strong one.
We lived in San Jose, I had just gotten home from work, very tired and six months pregnant. My mom, who was watching the other children, had just left. My seven year old was in the bathroom. My five year old and 15 month old were playing near me. I never heard it, but everyone said it was loud...I remember screaming at my seven year old to stay in the bathroom doorway. If he had come down the hall he would have been hit in the head by falling objects. I rushed to grab the other children and headed for the nearest doorway. As the shaking was subsiding, my mom came rushing back in the door. At first she thought all of her tires went flat but soon realized what was actually happening. We all went outside and sat on our front lawn. My mom went back into the house for my youngest son's stroller and blankets. It was still warm for October, but my seven year old was near shock. When my mom returned she just said, "You're not going to believe what your house looks like." Apparently there was glass all over the kitchen and the strong smell of hot sauce. Televisions fell, bookcases were turned over, speakers fell, and almost every item hanging on the walls was on the floor. The aftershocks kept coming as we sat on the front lawn. My husband pulled around the corner, he had made the 20 mile trip from Campbell to San Jose in just over 10 minutes. He was glad to see us all safe on the lawn. We all slept camped out in our frontroom that night. No electricity, no phones, but we had water. The ground rumbled all night. The baby inside of me kicked and squirmed all night, she seemed affected by the earthquake also. As each day passed there were fewer and fewer aftershocks. Although it's been almost 10 years, the memories are crystal clear.
Tell me your story