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The Bay Area Remembers Loma Prieta, 30 Years Later

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A worker surveys the damage caused by the fire in San Francisco's Marina district after the Loma Prieta earthquake struck on Oct. 17, 1989, in San Francisco. (Photo by FEMA News Photo via Getty Images)

Earlier this week, we asked you to share your memories of the Loma Prieta earthquake.

Today marks 30 years since the earthquake struck, and we take a moment to listen to your stories and memories. We also welcome you to tell us where you were on Oct. 17, 1989.

Andrew Acton
I was in the Marina Safeway shopping. Things started flying off of the shelves and it was hard to keep my balance. After it was over, I went outside and saw the damage. I got in my car and drove back to work on Golden Gate Avenue and was shocked at all of the damage! I gave a young man, who had arrived that morning as a tourist from Germany, a ride back to his hotel. He was so shook he told me he was catching the next flight home! I remember everyone being so kind and helpful to one another. It was remarkable.

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Mark Snoeberger
I was working for Sears Credit Central in Mountain View. When the earthquake hit, we all got under our desks and we could hear loud crashing noises. When it was over, we got up and realized the loud noises were air conditioning units that were falling down from the ceiling! They were not fastened down and the beams were cracked. They ended up shutting the place down for a week (paid) to retro-fit.

It was the longest seconds of my life. I remember when they found the kid in the rubble on the bridge a week later. It was a shining moment in a horrible week!

Eva Raczkowski
I was in San Mateo, in my office at Oracle. We had just had a birthday party for my 40th birthday where I was given an "Oh no 40!" button and covered with black silly string. I had no idea what was happening and ignored it until a coworker pulled me under a desk. No one at work suffered any injuries, but we discovered that a water pipe had broken right above the computer that ran all of the company's internal applications. Thanks to teamwork, we recovered quickly.

I lived in Half Moon Bay at the time, and for days I picked up speed every time I crossed the fault.

Julia from San Jose
I was a kindergartener in Davis, about 80 miles from the earthquake. I remember I was over at my friend Becky's house after school and I recall watching the chandelier in her kitchen swing. We had practiced stop, drop and roll routines at school and I vaguely recall hiding under her kitchen table. We didn't experience any damage or long-term effects, but we were amazed that we felt it so far away.

Tim Ryan
I got sent home early from work to watch the World Series. I was on a bus at 9th and Folsom when my office wall collapsed. I found out that two of my coworkers and three other pedestrians were crushed to death at my office at 185 Bluxome in San Francisco. I thought people were jumping up and down on the bus, then I looked out at the street light poles were swinging 45 degrees.

People ran from a building at the corner, and then a large plume of dust came out the door. My bus was diesel so we started right back up. As I walked from Market up Haight, I heard of more and more damage from each car where a radio was playing. I unplugged my answering machine so my analog phone would work and my family in Iowa panicked as I had no way to receive messages until I got through on a payphone later that night.

I went to a friend in Noe Valley who had power and saw my office on the TV. I went down to find I had no place to work. Our owners set up a temporary office a block away in a warehouse on Townsend and kept us employed. My desk was a door on milk crates for almost a year.

Nancy Van House
I was in a meeting in my office on UC Berkeley campus when the shaking hit. We all went under a table. We tried to continue the meeting but realized we were too shaken. I had a radio because of the baseball game and I tried to tune into KCBS radio to find out what happened but, oddly, couldn’t find them (they were off the air for a while).

On my way to my car, listening to the radio, I began to hear the real extent of the damage. As I got into my car in a multilevel parking structure, I heard KCBS broadcasters say they were feeling an aftershock. I knew they were in Embarcadero Center, and I gunned my car to get out of there before the aftershock hit Berkeley!

It was a very scary time. I watched TV and listened to the radio obsessively for weeks — in Berkeley, I never lost power. Learning more and more about the damage, I felt oddly outside of it, with no damage. Almost a kind of survivor’s guilt. I seriously considered leaving the Bay Area (but didn’t).

Siobhan Greene
I was in my house in San Mateo, a small house at the top of a hill. My daughter, Brighid, was 6 weeks old, sitting in her baby swing. The house felt like a train went through it; dogs went nuts; swing went higher than a mom wants to see. I whisked Brighid out of her swing without even unbuckling it. Had I not been home with my girl I would have been on the Bay Bridge on my way home from Berkeley where I worked. It was both my route and time. During crisis you feel you have to protect your child and save her from harm. I later realized, she saved me that day. She saved me that day.

Several years ago she got a tattoo of the Loma Prieta fault line (San Andreas) on her arm in honor of that weirdly special day we share. We always connect on the anniversary.

Siobhan Greene's daughter, Brighid, has a tattoo of the Loma Prieta fault line (San Andreas) on her arm. (Courtesy of Siobhan Greene)

Carolyn Eisen
I was in my house in Los Altos Hills, playing a game with my sister (I was 10 years old, she was 7). I was terrified! We had the Battle of the Bay World Series on the TV and I was half-watching and half-playing a game with my sister. My mom was on the phone buying tickets for the musical "Cats." When the shaking started she hung up and yelled for us to get under our desks, but I deemed my room too far and went to the doorway. My youngest sister was only 3 and couldn't even walk with all the shaking. It was so noisy and a brick retaining wall in front of our house collapsed. The power went out.

When it was over my mom took us three kids and our dog into our backyard. She brought a radio. There was a 6.0 aftershock shortly after. We couldn't communicate with my dad who was at work in Mountain View. It took him hours to get home from just a few miles and I was so scared he was hurt or trapped somewhere.

School was canceled the next day. The day after that we went back to school and made earthquake memory capsules in my fifth grade class but unfortunately I have no idea where it is now! Our power didn't come back on for three days because we were in the hills. We cooked with our camping stove. On the third day my dad bought a generator but the power came back on that day!

Thirty years later I'm still so jumpy about earthquakes, even the little ones get my heart racing.

Allison White
I was working out in the weight room at Foothill College in Los Altos. When the shaking started, the lights went out and ceiling tiles fell. We exited the weight room and looked out to see the Olympic-sized swimming pool sloshing swimmers out onto the deck.

Foothill College looks down on Highway 280 to the east. I knew how serious the quake was because cars on 280 had stopped in their lanes (and not from bumper to bumper traffic). If you've ever driven on 280, you know how fast cars tend to drive, so seeing cars stopped on 280 was amazing.

Cathy Connell
I was working for the San Francisco Examiner as a circulation department district manager and the Marina was part of the area I covered. On that day, I was waiting for my dinner order at O' Sole Mio restaurant on Chestnut near Fillmore and watching the Giants and A's in the World Series at Candlestick. Little did I know how the world around me was about to change.

The main thing that I remember was the intense shaking. I was unable to stand up from my seat. When the shaking finally subsided, I walked out to Chestnut Street to an eerie silence only broken by the sound of car alarms. I crossed the street to my truck and switched on the CB radio. A small group of people gathered around to listen for any news of what just happened to us. We were all in shock. Plaster littered the sidewalk nearby after falling from the facade of the apartment on the corner.

I soon encountered another driver who told me that the apartment building at Bay and Fillmore had collapsed into the garage level. He looked stunned. Afterwards I learned that people died in the collapse. I knew things were getting really bad when I smelled gas. Time to get out of there.

It seemed like hours before I made it back to 5th and Mission. The Chronicle building was dark. The power was out. Somehow we all made it back and told our horror stories.

Sally Anderson
I was in bed, in my house in Point Reyes Station. I was pregnant, and had gone into pre-term labor three days before, 10 weeks before my baby was due. I had been put on bed rest in hope of keeping baby growing at least a few more weeks before the due date of Dec. 17.

Earlier in the day I'd gotten a fancy computer to monitor contractions. The info went over phone lines to nurses in Santa Cruz, (and in "case of emergency" would be sent to Los Angeles), the kind nurse told me who'd come by to set it up that morning.

A little after 5 p.m., as the house rolled and swayed, feeling as if I had suddenly gone to sea. I found myself in the doorway, doubled over, protecting my rounded belly, thinking we'd have to name the tiny premie "Richter" if baby did indeed arrive that night.

I eventually got back in bed and proceeded to watch the news. (Big mistake). The Bay Bridge collapsing. The Marina on fire. Contractions were hard and fast and very, very scary.

A nurse in L.A. called, freaking out with how hard my contractions were. She advised me to turn off the TV, drink two liters of water and try to "relax." Ha! But I did, and indeed things calmed down. The baby stayed put until Dec. 10, arriving healthy, a fully developed air-breathing neonate!

Three weeks ago that now almost 30-year-old young woman finished walking the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada. A long journey from the scary day so many Octobers ago.

Lisa Robertson
I was in an old brick building near 4th on Mission Street. I was drafting a reflected ceiling plan. That last line wasn't very straight!

Our building had severe damage. The windows broke and our exit was hindered by a fallen bookcase. I walked to the train station, afraid buildings might collapse. Dust was rising from the streets. I waited for the trains to run, but after a few hours, a bus pulled up at the train station and offered a ride down the Peninsula for $20. It was a nice bus with overhead TVs. We watched and saw the news of the bridge collapse.

Before we could get out of the city, some young men approached our bus and beat out the windows with bats, for some unknown reason. It was all very frightening. I rode the bus all the way to Sunnyvale and walked home in the dark from there. We had just moved to a new apartment and the quake had knocked over our moving boxes. It was very dark and confusing, but the phone rang and I realized the lighted dial of the phone could be used as a flashlight. I dragged it around the apartment to check things out and find my cat.

My husband wasn't home, he had gone to a bar in the area that had power. It was his friend who called from the bar to check if I had made it home. They figured I was going to end up staying in San Francisco overnight since the trains weren't running, but they kept calling to check.

Steve Hellenbrand
I was moving in to a new townhouse in San Francisco on 17th Street. It was a wooden structure and the TV was on and the World Series was just beginning to start.

Being in a relatively empty wooden structure, I can still remember the loud creaking as the building rocked back and forth. It was so loud that any time I heard a creak in my home, I thought another quake was coming!

Afterwards, I went to my old apartment where I was surprised to see an empty toilet bowl — the water in the bowl splashed out and was all over the floor. That was some major shaking!

I remember getting together with friends, drinking wine and watching TV news coverage. After two days of constant coverage, I had to take a break and I went back to work in the Financial District. The city seemed eerily quiet for days and weeks after the quake. It took weeks to feel normal again in the city.

These responses have been edited for length and clarity.

PRIVACY NOTICE: KQED is gathering these stories for our reporting and will not share your information with third parties. Your contact information will not be published, but we may contact you about your response for a story. We may feature your reflections on KQED’s website, social media or on air. By submitting, you give KQED permission to edit your submission for clarity and length.


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