We were living in the city and just off work at The Examiner, bouncing off the K Car and hoofing it down 19th Avenue when the 7.1 Quake of ’89 grumbled and turned and did a slow roll at 5:04 p.m. – altering the lives of 780,000 people, taking the lives of some and reminding us all that Mother Nature was still calling the shots.
Lifelong Californians, we played the guessing game we always have with any quake of significance, coming in low at 6.4 and doubting ourselves when we saw a neighbor – a transplant and new arrival from New York – running back and forth screaming how he had to get out of “this fucking city.”
He ended up going, but not for days as those of us who were there remember SFO shutting down out of fears the runways had been cracked, our rail lines buckled and all trains stopped. When the suspended planters outside our home stopped swinging we looked back in the direction of downtown, looking east and watching the first tell tale plumes of black smoke spiraling up into a darkening October sky.
“It’s bad,” we said, needlessly as it turned out, and we hopped into the bed of a pickup truck in use by a group of Irish housepainters who happened to know a girlfriend – jouncing over a clogged Portola Drive to Market and Divisadero before abandoning the Irishmen and walking the rest of the way to check on a brother in the Marina District – sirens constant, the sky closing in and more smoke plumes seemingly rising with every step.
People were good, some were bad. The brother was gone, off helping friends whose apartments hadn’t fared as well as his had, people on the streets with transistors sharing information about nonexistent phone lines, city streets rolling like Slinkies, the Bay Bridge collapsing into the Bay, taking people with it, those little volcanoes of sand rising between the cracks of the sidewalk in the Marina…
We made it to the paper later that night… people who had been on the job when we left still at it, working by emergency lights strung up in the newsroom, talk of nonexistent generators and trying to get an edition out without benefit of electricity…
The video retrospective captures much of what we remember of that soft October evening and the days that followed. We were pleased to see colleagues Michael Macor, then on the job for the Oakland Tribune and on the team that would ultimately earn a Pulitzer for their coverage, and Rita Williams of KTVU doing what they do on the pancaked Cypress Structure and on the fractured but still standing Bay Bridge…
How about you folks? We know there are memories attached to this day in our collective history… we’d be interested in knowing your story.
We were at Candlestick Park. As we sit here watching Post Season baseball, I can’t help but think of the World Series (26 years ago). I was “expecting,” and it was a very trying evening…..
Growing up in the East Bay and remember the day and the following days really well. Weeks later a Spanish foreign exchange student we were hosting showed us a copy of a Spanish newspaper with the headline “Golden Gate Bridge Falls – People Eaten By Sharks.”
It was worse for you city folk. We felt a real jolt and aftershocks but we didn’t lose anything major (moms china tea set).
I was working in the city then and spent the night in a very cold apartment with a very warm but very frightened girlfriend. I remember there was a lot of hooking up in the days after, and that a LOT of people left. It was actually pretty nice despite the people killed and problems with transportation and communication.
Spent the evening in a wine bar on California Street. Drinking by candlelight which was really really dumb but really really romantic. I remember the concrete in the street and smell of gas. Sirens, yes, and the smoke.
My dad was at the game and he told us about a police car on the field making announcements. I forget how he got home but my mom was frantic. I never saw her so scared.
For me it was the sight of Dan Rather taking his limo in to the Marina and setting up in front of a tilting apartment building, all of us standing around watching him, all sooty and with no water or electricity in our building. Even now I look at the Embarcadero and think about what it looked like that day.
In some ways it made the city a lot better. I don’t think they next quake is going to be as forgiving.
I’ll never forget the reports of people trapped in their cars undergoing emergency amputations to free them. I’ll never forget the bravery.
For me it was a reminder of how slim a hold we have on normalcy and civillization. We’ve had emergency supplies in our garage ever since.