Saturday, October 17, 2009

I Too Survived The Loma Prieta Earthquake

I have an affinity for earthquakes, or perhaps better said, they have an affinity for me. From San Diego to Seattle, they have followed me up the western coast of the United States.

I lived in California during the Loma Prieta Earthquake. The epicenter was in the Santa Cruz Mountains very close to where I was at 5.04pm on October 17, 1989. I had stayed late at the office to interview the parents of one of our clients; I was a law clerk for a local criminal law attorney. The law office was in downtown San Jose, and was in a beautiful converted Victorian house. Oddly enough, the man and his wife I was interviewing were from Seattle, the place I would call home in three short years.

I was in the bosses office at his desk when the quake hit and everything went flying. The TV catapulted from one side of the room to the other. No exaggeration. The clients and I got under the desk while the house swayed back and forth for what seemed an eternity. It is the sounds I remember the most, almost as if the ground itself was howling in pain. When it stopped, my clients got out immediately. They had never been in an earthquake. I had, but not like this. I wanted to go home, but my purse and keys were in the back of the building in my office.

Negotiating from one room to the next was like traversing a mine field. All the bookshelves had toppled over and every office was piled high with the law. Broken glass was everywhere. Plants, pictures, lamps, everything was on the floor.

My boss, the athlete, had lined the tops of all the bookshelves in the library with his trophies. The seat where I had been sitting before the clients arrived had been impaled by one of his largest baseball trophies. The bat on the trophy had gone all the way through the seat of the chair. I stood and stared, at least it wasn't me.

The phones in the office were dead. I couldn't reach my husband or my children. Yes, I had a cell phone, one the size of a shoe box, but it didn't work either. Keys retrieved I started for home. When I walked out the front door of the office the dust was still rising from the collapsed six story building across the street. The absence of noise was as frightening as the earlier howls.

No traffic lights were working, yet people played nice at each intersection. My twenty minute ride home took four hours, as I stopped at every pay phone to try to reach my husband. People were lining up at the pay phones and panic was becoming evident.

When I arrived home I found that our pool had been struck by a tidal wave emptying the water onto our patio and into my bedroom. My husband and children were there, we were all together and safe. Others were not as lucky.

California Earthquake

California Earthquake Part 2

When I moved to Seattle, I thought I had left that all behind me, but I was part of one of the strongest earthquakes to hit Washington State. Much to my chagrin, I was featured in an article in the state's legal newspaper about my experience, but I'll save that for another earthquake day.


Blogger Caroline said...

Amazing! I don't believe I will be living anywhere near you [no offense]. ;)


October 17, 2009 at 3:38 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...

No offense taken. You are not the first to want to avoid me in earthquake territory.

I've been around for a big one on the New Madrid Fault, San Diego, Orange County, Loma Prieta, and the most recent big one in Western Washington. I see a pattern here.


October 17, 2009 at 4:21 PM  
Anonymous GrannyPam said...

Oh, my. I have felt sight tremors in my lifetime, but never a "real" earthquake like you describe. I hope I never do, and I hope you are spared having such an experience again.

October 18, 2009 at 6:52 AM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...


Living where I do, I expect I'll feel another in my lifetime. I would, however, be just as happy of I didn't.


October 18, 2009 at 9:09 AM  
Anonymous Mel said...

This brings back so many memories. I had forgotten about the eerie calm afterward. It was as if the whole city had been shut down. You just never forget an experience like this. Thanks for sharing!

October 18, 2009 at 10:32 PM  
Blogger VacaGrammy said...

fM, As a native bay area Californian, I too, have experienced several quakes in my lifetime. Loma Prieta was one I do not want to experience again. Luckily my dear hubby had JUST left the freeway that collapsed; he said that our car just started to move across lanes, and he had to correct in order to stay in his own lane. It wasn't until he got home that he heard what had occured right behind him. The aftershocks in our east bay area (near and in Sacramento) were pretty scary, too. Even our pool experienced the "tidal wave" effect due to the aftershocks!

October 20, 2009 at 10:00 AM  

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