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Loma Prieta: Looking Back on the Earthquake 30 Years Later

The 6.9 magnitude quake on Oct. 17, 1989 left 63 people dead and more than 3,700 injured

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    NEWSLETTERS

    FULL EPISODE: Loma Prieta Earthquake, 30 Years Later

    The Bay Area marks the 30th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake on October 17th. If you were in the Bay Area on that day in 1989, you knew where you were and what you were doing at 5:04 p.m. when the 6.9 quake rocked the region. In this installment of our award-winning documentary, we’ll take a look at how the earthquake forever changed the Bay Area and what’s being done to prepare for the next big one. Hear untold stories from the survivors, first responders and unsung heroes from that day. Our interviewees share memories from Candlestick Park, San Francisco's Marina District, the Cypress Freeway in Oakland and downtown Santa Cruz. They include sportscaster Al Michaels, former Giants star Will Clark, along with former San Francisco mayor Art Agnos and former police chief Frank Jordan. Also, hear from the Oakland surgeon who amputated a young boy's leg, saving his life and the former firefighter who nearly died when the Cypress freeway collapsed. And, the "miracle survival" story of a family-run bookshop in Santa Cruz.

    (Published Monday, Oct. 14, 2019)

    Thirty years ago Thursday, the Loma Prieta earthquake rocked the Bay Area and beyond, shaking buildings from their foundations, flattening a stretch of freeway in Oakland and dislodging a section of the Bay Bridge.

    The 6.9 magnitude earthquake, which struck at 5:04 p.m. on Oct. 17, 1989, left 63 people dead, injured more than 3,700 others and caused billions of dollars' worth in damage.

    Baseball fans across the Bay Area were gearing up to watch Game 3 of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics when the quake struck on the San Andreas Fault near Loma Prieta peak in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

    "When I went outside as this thing was happening, you could actually see the wave that was coming from the south going north. It made every car jump in the air," San Francisco resident Dr. Steven Brattesani said in a recent Bay Area Revelations episode chronicling the earthquake's widespread devastation. "I mean, I've never seen concrete and asphalt do that before."

    The epicenter was located roughly nine miles northeast of Santa Cruz and 60 miles south-southeast of San Francisco, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

    Shaking was said to have lasted for about 15 to 20 seconds, and people as far away as San Diego and western Nevada reportedly felt it, according to the California Department of Conservation.

    "The 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake ended decades of tranquility in the San Francisco Bay region," Robert Page with the USGS said in a statement. "It was a wakeup call to prepare for the potentially even more devastating shocks that are inevitable in the future."

    The quake damaged an estimated 18,300 houses, according to the conservation department. Another 963 were destroyed. The shaking also damaged nearly 2,600 businesses and wiped out 147. 

    Tremors caused a portion of the upper deck of the Bay Bridge to collapse onto the lower deck, leaving the vital transportation artery unusable for about one month. The upper deck of the nearby Cypress Freeway in Oakland also came crashing down in an instant, crushing cars on the freeway's lower level. Forty-two people were killed.

    "I'm looking over and I remember seeing a woman in a brand new BMW. She was in that car, and there was a gardener guy [in] a little Toyota pickup or whatever. And then, 'Wham!' It was lights out," Tim Petersen, a 24-year-old firefighter at the time of the earthquake, recalled in an interview with Bay Area Revelations. "Everything went black."

    Petersen, pinned in his flattened pickup truck, suffering from two broken ankles, broken ribs on his left side and an injured shoulder, managed to survive thanks to Oakland firefighters who spent six hours pulling him to safety.

    "I was getting ready to just see what it's like to die," Petersen said. "It's going to be over real soon, and I was waiting. And it never happened."

    Over in San Francisco, the soft soil of the Marina District gave way. Homes toppled, gas lines ruptured and blazes ignited.

    "It was mayhem," Brattesani said. "Buildings were in the street. All the corner buildings were literally from four stories to one story."

    Brick buildings in downtown Santa Cruz crumpled.

    "Streets were just a tumble of bricks and building parts," Ceil Cirillo, former Santa Cruz redevelopment director, said.

    Thirty years to the day Loma Prieta hit, people across the state on Thursday practiced their earthquake preparedness during the "Great California ShakeOut." The earthquake drill, which reminded people to drop, cover and hold, took place at 10:17 a.m., coinciding with the Loma Prieta anniversary.

    "The Loma Prieta earthquake was a tragedy that caused immense suffering for thousands of California residents," California Earthquake Authority CEO Glenn Pomeroy said in a statement. "Anniversaries for big earthquakes often serve as painful reminders of why we need to know how to Drop, Cover, and Hold On when the ground shakes, and know how to financially recover from damage that may be expensive to repair."

    Earlier this week, multiple earthquakes registering above magnitude 3.0 rattled the Bay Area and surrounding regions. A 4.7 magnitude quake hit near Salinas and Hollister Tuesday afternoon. The night before, a 4.5 magnitude quake centered near Walnut Creek and Pleasant Hill jolted many people from their sleep.

    If you'd like to learn more about the Loma Prieta earthquake, you can watch the full Bay Area Revelations episode here. It includes interviews with survivors, first responders and unsung heroes who experienced one of the strongest earthquakes to rattle the region in decades.