Saturday, October 17, 2009

It's Been Twenty Years???

Has it really been twenty years since the Loma Prieta earthquake?


I will never, ever forget that day.

I worked in San Francisco and had just left the office. Walking down the street, I suddenly felt light-headed, reeling, like I was going to faint.

Then the next ripple of the earth pushed me in the opposite direction and I realized that I wasn't having a fainting spell, it was an earthquake!

My first thought was "Oh, no, not today!"

I looked around and saw dust and pebbles coming off the tall buildings surrounding me on Pine Street. My instinct was to get undercover, but there was no place to hide. I was too far from the lobby to run back to my office. So I stepped quickly over to the nearest building, squatted down against the wall and put my briefcase over my head.

The shaking went on forever. (Amazing what adrenaline will do to your perception of time!)

Finally, the shaking stopped.

I got up and ran back to my building, 111 Pine, and into the lobby. It was crowded. I waited and finally my co-workers came out of the stairwell.

I think we were all a bit shockey. They told me that upstairs it was bad. The file cabinets were all over, the contents were a mess.

We all waited a while and then finally decided that we should start making our way home. By then we'd figured out there was no power, little phone service, and something really, really bad had happened.

I went into the basement where there was a working pay phone. I needed to call home and see if my son was OK. The line was long.

Finally, I got to the front of the line and punched in my calling card info. At first, I couldn't get through, but by alternating my home phone and my parents' phone in Downey, California, I finally got through to my son in Fairfield. He said my parents had already called, so I told him to call them back and tell them that I was OK. And that I love him very much.

Once I got off the phone, I knew that it would be a while before I could get out of San Francisco. Since my dad was CalTrans, I knew that they'd check all the bridges and overpasses and that it could be a good while before the roads were fully open. I had driven in that day by myself, so at least I didn't have to worry about my vanpool van. They were on their own.

I walked around for a little while, taking snapshots of some of the damage and when it started getting dark, I saw that the traffic (which had been at a standstill) was finally moving a little.

I walked to my truck, parked under the Embarcadero Freeway, and got ready to try to make my way home. I turned on the CB radio and oh my goodness, was I surprised! Up to this point, I had no idea that the Bay Bridge was broken.

I gathered myself and started listening and asking questions. The best way out appeared to be over the Golden Gate Bridge, so I started working my way across town.

I'll never forget how the lights were all out. The young businessman, coat open and tie askew, beer bottle in one hand and directing traffic through the intersection with the other. The people walking up, away from the Financial District, or down, toward the Ferry Building, trying to get home.

The CB kept chattering and I was talking to others who lived out in the far East Bay. I wasn't the only one trying to get to the Golden Gate. In addition, there was fire in the Marina. A huge fire and buildings that had collapsed, people still inside. Fire and rescue efforts were blocking the main streets so I knew I couldn't go through the Marina.

Thanks to my CB buddies, I knew that Lombard was absolutely packed with cars trying to get out of the city, so I went up another couple of blocks. I THINK it was Filbert that I drove down (OK guys, it was 20 years ago!) paralleling Lombard. Even that far away from the Marina, I could see the flames and light of the fire in the night sky.

I made good time until I had to cut right to get onto Lombard/Richardson. Then it was just bumper to bumper crawling all the way to and over the Golden Gate.

I did finally make it to Highway 37 and from there it was dark, dark, dark, with very little traffic. By the time I got to Vallejo, it was surreal. It seemed like nothing had happened. However, when I pulled into my apartment parking lot, I could see water all over the driveway still.

My son was so happy to see me! Then I found out that he hadn't been able to call my parents, so no one knew I was alive.

When I called my parents, they were frantic with worry. The news showed the Bay Bridge and the collapsed Cypress structure. I still have no idea why they would have thought I was on the Cypress, it wasn't on my route home. My sister was raving with worry until my dad finally blew up and told her "If she's dead, she's DEAD, there's nothing we can do about it!".

Yeah, that's my dad, as subtle as a baseball bat.

I think I was still on the phone when I turned on the TV. That was when I had to sit down. I had NO idea what else had happened until that moment. I was truly in shock at that point. I knew the quake was bad but I didn't know how bad until I saw the collapsed Cypress and the broken Bay Bridge. I think I spent the entire next day glued to the TV, watching it all over and over and over again.

It's hard to believe that it's been twenty years already. I'll never, ever forget that day in San Francisco.