We were not prepared when the quake struck. Watsonville, Santa Cruz, Oakland and San Francisco were overwhelmed.
Cities scrambled to respond as seismic waves rolled under the Bay. A section of the Bay Bridge collapsed. Buildings burned. Oakland's Cypress Freeway pancaked, killing 42. Americans witnessed a major urban earthquake on live TV.
It was a galvanizing reminder about life on California's unstable edge. But 25 years later, the August quake shows that things are different.
Communities responded quickly and skillfully. Emergency centers coordinated help in the hardest-hit areas. Community officials coordinated deftly with state counter-parts. People checked on their neighborhoods, using emergency training techniques.
Since 1989, we've seen that disaster preparedness trainings pay off; home retrofits do work. Although more than 200 were injured in August, only one life was lost.