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Tuesday, October 17, 2000

Not the Big One

That's what they kept telling us, after the biggest one I ever hope to experience. I was in a reportorial mood at the time, maybe in a state of mild shock.

Transcribed word for word from my paper journal:

Sunday, October 15, 1989

Game 2 of the World Series was nearly a carbon copy of Game 1, although the Giants did manage to score. This time it was Mike Moore who shut them down, 5-1, and it was Terry Steinbach who hit the three-run homer off Rick Reuschel to put the game away early. The Giants have played lifeless baseball in the Oakland Coliseum (a lifeless ballpark). Hopefully they will come to life when they return to Candlestick Tuesday.

[The Boss] drove me crazy by making me work all day today, and then telling me at the end that we hadn't accomplished anything except to prove that there was no hope against bankruptcy. I was pretty depressed when I left at 4:00 (he knew I had to be home by 5:00 to watch the game). Luckily he called me a bit later to let me know that he thought he had found some sort of solution. Since I had worked all day, I ended up staying up till midnight studying for my test tomorrow night.

Tuesday, October 17, 1989

At 5:04 this afternoon, at the height of the rush hour, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake centered near Santa Cruz rocked the entire Bay Area and in fact shook the whole state and beyond. A section of the upper deck of the Bay Bridge collapsed onto the lower deck. In the most devastating incident, the top level of the Cypress section of the Nimitz Freeway at the east end of the Bay Bridge collapsed onto the lower level, crushing a number of cars and apparently killing as many as 100 people.

In San Francisco, a large area of the Marina District was destroyed by a fire generated by a broken gas main. A broken water main hampered firefighting efforts, forcing water pumped from the bay to be used. In the South of Market area of the city, the façade of a building fell into the street, crushing people leaving work as they were getting into their cars.

The quake struck just a half-hour before the scheduled start of Game 3 of the World Series. Barry did not go to the game, but his father and brother and I were in our seats in the top row of the stadium when it began to rock and roll. We expected the usual mild shake, but the movement continued and in fact grew more violent over the course of about fifteen or twenty seconds.

Ken wanted to leave right then, but Don and I wanted to stay. After about five aftershocks of varying magnitudes, we decided to walk down to the bottom of the stairs, out from under the rim of the stadium, to see what would happen.

At that point we had no idea of the level of devastation throughout the area, and were still waiting to see if a game would be played. It would have been the first World Series game at Candlestick since 1962, and the weather was perfect. There was no power, though, and the game was cancelled so that the park could be evacuated before total darkness.

And darkness was indeed what characterized San Francisco as the sun went down: the only lights were the headlights and taillights of vehicles creeping precariously through the streets made even more frightening than usual by the lack of traffic control at the intersections.

At a few places off-duty police officers and even some private citizens were heroically directing traffic in the utter darkness, but many other places were chaotic gridlock. Most drivers were cautious and courteous, but there were enough who seemed to have no idea how to drive under these conditions that everyone else was affected.

I left Barry's house [in Daly City] at 7:30, after hearing on the radio that the Golden Gate Bridge and its access routes were running freely. This was not the case, and it took me nearly three hours to reach the bridge. Just south of the Macarthur Tunnel there was a section of one lane of the roadway that had collapsed, so the fact that all traffic was being funneled into a single lane was part of the reason for the slow pace.

Once I got across the bridge, cars were moving at the speed limit, and in fact when I got past the off-ramp to the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge traffic was light most of the way home. I finally got home at about 11:20 and called Mom to let her know I was okay.

The reaction of the Candlestick crowd to the quake was typically San Franciscan. Immediately after the shaking stopped, a cheer went up from the nearly-filled park. The atmosphere was electric, at least until word started to spread about the collapse of the Bay Bridge and the Nimitz Freeway. Even then, no one could believe such a level of disaster could be true, and some sections chanted for the game to start.

There was no PA system to let the crowd know what was happening, and eventually a police car was brought onto the field to make the announcement over its loudspeaker. By that time it was apparent baseball was not on anyone's mind anyway, as the players had sought out their friends and family in the stands and brought them onto the field.

At this time the fate of this year's World Series is still uncertain, but rumors are rampant. Possible structural damage to Candlestick (and the Oakland Coliseum) will be assessed tomorrow, and at that time a decision will be made from a number of possibilities that have been discussed, including moving all games to neutral sites in Southern California.

It is now 3:17 AM Wednesday, and I still don't know about sleeping tonight. It was 2:00 am before I could even eat, and I have been watching earthquake coverage on TV since I got home.

I was very calm during the earthquake, but I got more and more shaky as the details kept getting filled in. It was only as I was driving home listening to the radio that I started to get a picture of what I had been in the middle of, and it was only after I saw some of it on TV that it began to dawn on me how close I might have come to being hurt or worse.

The uncertainty of life has never been as clearly crystallized for me.

Wednesday, October 18, 1989

The immensity of what happened in the Bay Area yesterday grew to even greater proportions this morning as dawn revealed a level of devastation previously unimagined, both in San Francisco's Marina District and in Oakland at the I-880 collapse. The destruction in Santa Cruz, Los Gatos and other cities near the quake's epicenter was also more apparent with the light of day.

What was also apparent was the great fortune of most of us that it was not even remotely as bad as it might have been.

The decision to delay the third game of the World Series until at least next Tuesday, and to play Games 3, 4 and 5 at Candlestick, was generally applauded as a wise one. Any repairs to the park can have been made by then, and if public resources are available to ensure things will run smoothly, the resumption of the series could be the boost people will need to pull them out of the mood of sadness and despair that is now prevalent. (There is a minority opinion that all thought of baseball is inappropriate and that no resources should be diverted until all missing persons are accounted for.)

My day was a quiet one. I was up until after 4:00, and awake by 6:30. With so little sleep I had no thought of going to work, or to class tonight. The day seemed mostly like an extension of yesterday, with radio and TV providing constant updates and recaps of the situation.

I did drop in on Suzanne, and later on Mom, to let them see that I was all right. David had been fearful of going to school this morning, but he came home this afternoon ready to talk it all out, in his own special way. Eric reacted similarly, in his own quiet fashion; he made gentle jokes and stayed close to his mother and me.

Thursday, October 19, 1989

As the days go by, the extent of the earthquake damage becomes more evident. However, while physical damage is much greater than first believed, it appears possible that the loss in human lives may be somewhat less than original estimates indicated.

Probably because the World Series game was about to start, traffic on the I-880 Cypress structure and elsewhere was lighter than usual, and apparently much lighter than first feared. Workers now believe that cars crushed by the collapse of that section of the Nimitz were not bumper-to-bumper after all, and may have been as much as sixty feet apart. This would lower the estimate of those killed in this area from about 250 to perhaps less than 100.

Life among those not as grievously affected by the earthquake began returning to some semblance of normalcy today. I got some sleep last night, ate somewhat regularly today, worked all day and did homework all evening.

The 49ers have decided that Sunday's game against the Patriots, originally scheduled for Candlestick, will be played at Stanford Stadium. Proceeds from sale of the extra 20,000 seats will be donated to earthquake relief.

To this day, every time I look at a clock, it seems to read 5:04, and I travel back in time for a moment. I should note that at that time Eric was 13 and David was 8. And I myself was also eleven years younger than I am now.

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