Loma Prieta

Last Saturday was the 20th anniversary of the Loma Prieta Earthquake. Like most Bay Area folk, I remember exactly where I was when it hit.
I’d been home sick that day, and was still in my jammies at the dining room table. Mom was in the kitchen, leaning over a spread-out newspaper and reading. When the quake hit, I jumped up and stood in the doorway like I’d been taught and said, “Mom, mom, come stand in the doorway!”
She said, “eh, it’ll stop in a minute.”
But it was still shaking. The bookshelves in the livingroom faceplanted onto the floor with a crash.
“Maybe I will come stand in the doorway,” she said, and then it stopped.
It was the longest quake I think I’ve ever been in — about seven seconds, maybe eight. Every bookshelf we had that was oriented along the North-South axis of the house fell over. Those oriented East-West didn’t (including an enormous cinderblock-and-board bookcase in the library which would have crushed everything in its path, yikes). The upstairs hallway had been lined with stacks of paperback books, all of which fell over and spread everywhere. The whole hallway was easily ankle-deep in books. (I come by my bibliophilia honestly!)
We were lucky. Our house was on decently stable land. Elsewhere, on fill or close to the epicenter, things were not so good. 63 people died. Thousands were injured. Freeway overpasses and part of the Bay Bridge collapsed. Parts of San Francisco burned to the ground. Homes in the Santa Cruz mountains slid into ravines or collapsed, or both. One of my science teachers lost his home — he and his son barely got out before it went down the side of the mountain. It took over a decade to repair I-880, and the in-progress I-480 was abandoned entirely. And on and on. So much damage.
Since then, most quakes just seem sort of… entertaining. Exciting. They’re nowhere near as scary because I remember Loma Prieta, and that is my benchmark for a serious earthquake.

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One Response to Loma Prieta

  1. AM says:

    Your grandmother always remembered the 1930’s Long Beach Quake as her earthquake touchstone. Your mom and I had the Simi Valley quake, followed by Northridge & Loma Prieta for ours. Every generation has at least one real roller in CA. You remember your mom reading the paper; I remember Dad asking for reports on how the lamps were swaying – before he led us to tour the foundation of the house and then bolted for the epicenter himself. It’s in our genes.