Loma Prieta Earthquake Stories

Loma Prieta Quake 1989
I lived and worked in Santa Cruz.

I was angry all day. At lunch I wondered why as I was complaining about the clerk at the 7 eleven. The air was still and heavy. Working as a receptionist that day I was to do a conference call to the London branch at 5:30. The building began to shake. I thought “This is a good one.” That part of the building must have been sounder because I figured about a 5.5. The power was out and the phone lines down. The regular employees were leaving and I decided to leave also.

Sitting in traffic I started going through the radio stations. There was one in Watsonville? playing music and reporting as best they could. Then they were told to get off the air, so I searched some more. The station I found was out of Salt Lake City and they reported the Bay Bridge down. I said “Holy shit. It’s the big one.” I knew this part of town and drove to a park to wait for the traffic to thin out. Many people were at the park and we watched downtown Santa Cruz burn. We guess the size of the aftershocks and comforted each other.

I headed toward home. Citizens were directing traffic and had signs out saying bridges were out. It was dark and I hit one crack that dropped the road about a foot. My poor car. On getting home I made my way into the living room. For whatever reason when I cleaned earlier that week I had put a flashlight by the television. I found it, yea! Cups from the kitchen cupboard were half way across the living room!

My sister had left a note to come to her house so I went to the shed and got my camping gear and some food. It was the most beautiful night. With the power out we could see all of the stars in the sky. The ground continued to shake and it did sound like a train coming. The phone was kind of working and we were trying to get through to my sister in Washington to let her know we were ok and see who else had checked in. Once we did get through no one else had checked in yet. We counted our blessing then slept.

In the morning I went home to survey the damage. It was amazing. Like I said the coffee cups were from one end of the kitchen and out into the living room. This was about a 15 foot stretch! Some were broken and some not. This amazed me. Then the local news was coming in. Downtown Santa Cruz was history. Deaths from old buildings that were not up to code. Highway 17 was blocked and many bridges were out. Most of the back roads were also blocked. I turned off the gas because that was what we were supposed to do. Clean up was heartbreaking because of memories that were broken. The mobile home I lived in was 1/8 of an inch from falling off the foundation tiers. Thanks Barry for coming down and helping get it back in place.

Then Bush had to come and look. His helicopter flew so low that if the quakes didn’t take down the building the vibration felt like it would. About every morning for week or more we got a wake up shake between 7 and 7:30 am. I’m thinking that it didn’t calm down till December.

I had tickets to a Rolling Stones concert in Oakland. I had to go up to Half Moon Bay to get over the hill. At the concert Mick tried to talk about what he saw in Watsonville. The whole stadium fell silent. Chilling. Not what he expected. We were all still traumatized.

I was thankful to have been in Santa Cruz. The looting in the bigger cities was shameful. We were a bit frustrated with the news because they only focused on a couple of areas. Many people and communities suffered. Being so close to the epicenter the shaking didn’t stop for months. I didn’t realize how traumatized I was from the event until a moderate quake hit the next April.

Having relocated to Ohio—for affordable housing not because of quakes—I’ve gotten to experience floods, violent thunder storms, tornadoes, snow storms, ice storms and we are now in the hurricane zone. The energy that mother nature has will always thrill me and hold me in awe.

Sherie Wise January 25, 2010

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The Loma Prieta earthquake, which occurred on October 17, 1989, is the most recent large earthquake to strike the San Francisco Bay Area. Many individuals and families have stories and memories related to this damaging earthquake. To help us preserve these precious stories and learn more about the earthquake, please share your story and memories with us.

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