Mt. Rainier and Lenticular Clouds - Dec. 2008 copyright: JMM

October 17, 2006

It was 17 years ago today.....

October 17, 1989 is forever burned into my mind as the day Ma Nature said, "Time to shake things up a bit." It was a very warm, still day..... "earthquake weather" as it's called. My husband and I had just moved to San Francisco at the end of July and had already experienced one minor quake in August. October 17 dawned sunny and we decided to call in sick and hang out. We were eagerly awaiting the World Series that evening, the Oakland A's at San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park.

At about 4:45, Brian started spaghetti sauce and I was painting a design on one of my jean jackets. We settled in to watch the game at 5:00. At 5:04, as I was plugging in the iron to set the fabric paint, the apartment started shaking. I sat down on the couch and Brian was in his chair and we had our arms around each other, waiting for the shaking to stop. It didn't. It got louder and louder....and Brian yelled, "into the doorway!" and we ran to the den door. But the floor was pitching up and down, and contrary to what people say about quakes sounding like trains, this one sounded like a pile driver. BAM! BAM! BAM! Brian crawled across the floor and shoved the TV back into place b/f it fell on the floor.

The shaking finally subsided and you could hear a pin drop. The entire city was brought to its knees and was completely silent. Then you could hear the screaming start from different buildings in our neighborhood. We had two quick aftershocks. I was alternating between crying and laughing. We first joined our landlord in the lobby for a quick building inspection and everything was fine. Then we went out to walk around. Most of the facades in our neighborhood, the Richmond District, are brick or stucco, over wood frames. So while the homes themselves were fine and flexed during the quake, the facades had cracked or fallen onto the streets.

People were walking around in a daze, listening to the radio. We didn't realize how bad things were till we rounded the corner and saw the plume of smoke coming from the Marina District. The Marina District was built on landfill. After the 1915 Panama Pacific Expo, all the temporary buildings were knocked down and pushed into the Bay, and multi million dollar homes built on top. So when the shaking started, the ground turned to jelly. Our neighborhood, the Richmond District, was built on top of sand dunes. It's a bit less stable than bedrock but we held our own.

We managed to find a working pay phone and I called my parents. My mom must have been sitting on the phone b/c she answered after half a ring, in near hysteria, telling the operator yes, yes, she'll accept a collect call!! It never occurred to me that with all the media in town for the game, that everyone else in the country was seeing live pictures of what just happened, while the residents of San Francisco were literally in the dark with no power and only hit or miss telephone service. Some of our friends were able to get through to us that first night and day, and I was not amused when my friend Jack said, "Hey! What's shakin'?"

We spent a very stressful night with little sleep, but the power was on for us by the morning. We both suffered terrible post traumatic stress after this quake. Any little movement that shook our apartment building caused us both to have anxiety attacks for months. I will never forget how San Franciscans and Bay Area residents pulled together to help in any way we could. We were all alone, cut off from everyone else and it was our time to shine; everyone was your friend. Bush #1 was in the White House at the time and you know what he did? He sent that idiot Dan Quayle to survey the damage about 2 weeks after the quake.

Since 10/17/89, we've experienced several aftershocks and minor quakes, and in 2001, we were here in Washington for the Nisqually Earthquake. I think we've had our fair share of major disasters.

This is the Marina District. 3-story apartment buildings were reduced to rubble. People on the 3rd floor found themselves looking at the street after the shaking stopped. The fire was terrible. This quake was so reminiscent to the 1906 quake when the entire city burned down.
This is the Cypress Structure, aka The Nimitz Freeway, which pancaked and crushed people in their cars. It was 5:00 p.m., the height of commute time.
Here's a picture of a car that nearly ended up in the Bay when a section of the Bay Bridge dislodged and fell to the roadway below. The Bay Bridge was closed for one month as engineers worked 24/7 to get it back together. Traffic was a horror show as people had to use the already stressed Golden Gate Bridge to get to the East Bay.
Another Marina District building.


  1. you have to count your blessings and thank G-d you've survived and you're here to tell the tale

    lotsa luv ann xxxxx

  2. Anonymous2:06 PM

    god had very little to do with it as a mythological being is pretty much useless in that situation.

  3. I've been married long enough to know that last comment was made by my illustrious hubby. :)

  4. I can't believe it's been 17 years!! I was watching the World series.....It was stunning.

    Scares the hell out of me that Seattle may get 'the big one' someday.

  5. Tess - there's no "may get the big one" about it. Living out here, you have to say "when we get the big one" b/c it's only a matter of time! Combine the quakes with the volcano and tsunami threat, and it's a Natural Disaster Trifecta.

  6. Shit! I guess that is the only good thing about South natural disasters...knock on wood.

  7. I have no idea how people can bring themselves to live in earthquake zones. I saw a clip of the 1906 earthquake as a tiny kid, and it had a profound effect on me - I'm terrifed of earthquakes having no chance of ever being near one! I'm scared for y ou even after all this time.

    By the way, it had never occured to me before that your earthquake was two years and a day after our hurricane. I wonder what someone somewhere could make of that coincidence.

  8. HI, What a story you have told and the pictures bring back memories when we were watching from up here. Thanks for your comment on my pix. White Rock is a trendy place along the beach if you keep walking along the beach from Bellingham Wash., you will run into it some miles west. DonW