Friday October 17, 2014

Loma Prieta - Remembering 1989

October 17, 1989. 17:04 Pacific time.

25 years ago.

I was on CA 85, having left work (at Apple, in Cupertino), heading north to pick up hubby Rich where he was working in Mountain View. The car bucked; I pulled over, thinking I had a blown tire. A lot of cars pulled over. Hmmmm.

At the side of the road, a transformer was sparking. Apparently, we'd had an earthquake.

We all got back in our cars. I continued to Mountain View, where Rich was waiting in the parking lot. He said "There was an earthquake." So far, to misquote C3PO from Star Wars Episode 4, "The damage didn't look so bad from out here."

We drove up 101 to the Oregon Expressway and up to El Camino Real. Some traffic lights were out and drivers or pedestrians were directing traffic. This turned out to be a common scene as we headed home.

Page Mill Road westbound looked more congested, so we turned north on ECR. This was not, in retrospect, the best idea we had, as traffic on ECR became more congested too soon.

Eventually, we arrived in San Bruno. Our house was, apparently, unshaken. Power was on. No obvious damage.

One noticeable effect, however, was a friend of Rich's who had been driving south over the Golden Gate bridge when the quake hit. Unable to go back north, he had come to our house. He had a key and had let himself in.

Now, when all we wanted was to relax and de-stress, there was an uninvited guest sitting in our living room, watching our television, muttering, over and over, "There must be thousands dead."

If I could go back in time, I would have turned off the television and sent the friend to the nearest motel, pronto.

It turned out there weren't thousands dead. Between the beginning of the World Series keeping many people off the roads, the improvements in earthquake safety over the past decades, the location of the epicenter, and the direction of the wave, damage and serious injuries were both far less than initially expected (64 deaths; 400 serious injuries). Candlestick park, where the World Series was taking place, suffered minot structural damage; no one within the stadium was injured.


We heard later than a group of visiting seismologists were unhappy. They were apparently up in Marin county or coming over the bridge when the quake hit, and they didn't feel it. Right place, right time, and yet, they missed the event.

In the days and weeks that followed, there was a lot to clean up.

Candlestick Park was examined and declared usable. The World Series continued 10 days later, on October 27, 1989.

The Embarcadero Freeway, a double-decker roadway that shadowed the eastern waterfront of San Francisco, was also damaged. In 1986, voters had rejected plans to remove the freeway; the earthquake reopened debate (now for removal or repair). In 1991, the freeway was removed. Since then, property values have risen, new businesses have moved in, neighborhoods have been created or expanded, and the waterfront has become a lively and thriving area.

Much of the worst damage occurred in San Francisco's Marina district, part of which was built on poorly compacted "fill" dirt which turned to a slushy mixture during the quake. Many buildings also had inadequate support in their first storey. 124 buildings were destroyed or damaged by the quake or subsequent fire. Today, the Marina district has been rebuilt and the damage it underwent helped improve USGS earthquake hazard models and recommendations for seismic retrofitting.

One of Apple's older buildings (not the one I was working in at the time) suffered enough damage that there was initial worry that it might need to be torn down. However, upon further inspection, it turned out that the building was in good shape, structurally. Apple cleared it down to the concrete, then renovated it back to the most current safety standards.

Damage to the local freeway system was extensive and, in some cases, took years to rebuild. The collapsed portion of Oakland's Cypress Street Viaduct was torn down and the freeway was rebuilt and rerouted as a single-deck structure. The upper deck of the Bay bridge was repaired (and the bridge has since undergone extensive rebuilding). The section of Interstate 280 between US 101 and downtown San Francisco was out of commission for several years, causing minor dislocation.

We were all lucky. Rich and I were especially lucky; our house is built on a hill made of "decomposed granite"; it barely felt the quake.

There will be another earthquake; in this area, there is always "another earthquake". Personally, I'd rather live here than in tornado country.

Still, I do agree with Rick & Ruby (a 70's SF Bay Area comedy team) who once said that the best place you can be in an earthquake is some place where you can say, "Oh... What was that?"

In the News, 2014

Loma Prieta - Remembering 1989 ( in category Retrospectoscope ) - posted at Fri, 17 Oct, 20:24 Pacific | «e»

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