Thursday, October 14, 1999
In this issue, at the approach of the 10th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake, we share our readers'' memories of how the ''quake affected them. Not surprisingly, the memories run the gamut of emotions: fear, humor, love, compassion...
We at The Weekly have our memories, too. We were barely a year old when Mother Nature convulsed. There was no immediate physical damage, but the ensuing power outage meant we were forced to return to older, more reliable ways of working on the paper: out came the manual typewriters; we made corrections on our galleys by cutting with X-Acto knives and pasting together that week''s paper letter by letter. Because so many businesses in the hospitality industry were affected by the decline in visitors to the area, we, too, faced an uphill financial challenge in the ensuing months. It was a time when the staff came together in the face of adversity and we proved something to ourselves.
In some ways the Loma Prieta seems like a very long time ago; in others, it seems like yesterday. For almost everyone who lived through the ''quake and its aftermath, it was a journey to some new discovery about themselves or their community.
Here''s what we''ve felt and what we''ve learned...
Life and Death
On the 5th Floor My father was dying. On the fifth floor of Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital, I sat in a chair as I watched the nurse replace the IV needle that gave my father a few more days of life. When the shaking began, I remained sitting while bantering with the nurse about "just another earthquake." As the rattling and rumbling continued, I became more concerned over the fact the nurse had left the room than I was about the continued swaying of the building. The IV was left disconnected and that fact overcame whatever other conscious thought I had. What kind of fear might I have felt had I been given the "luxury" to concentrate on the event? It was only later that I realized that a major event had occurred and that I hadn''t truly "experienced" it because of my concentration on another life or death issue.
When the shaking was over, I asked my father what he thought of the ''quake. He had noticed nothing at all and was more interested in watching the nurse, who had returned, reattach his IV.
The thought of a big shaker stays in the back of my mind but the news of hurricanes and tornadoes in other parts of the country remind me why California is the Golden State for me-''quakes or no ''quakes. John Bernardi, Carmel
A Lesson Learned I''ve told this story often, especially to new mothers who relay stories of their own pertaining to realizing they''re now mothers.
My son, Jesse, was not quite 6 months old and I had him hooked onto our dining counter in a chair that attaches to the counter. I was making dinner when I felt the ''quake. I ran out the front door onto our porch, about 30 feet. I realized I left Jess still sitting in his chair! Of course, he didn''t know any different. I grabbed him and went back outside.
I laugh, to this day, seeing my instinct was for self-preservation. Was it because I was still a new mother? Luckily, nothing bad happened for me to feel guilty that I can laugh about it. Now my son is old enough to run out the door himself! Lisa Gering, Big Sur
Not So Bad...
Bottoms Up "Hey, this is the Big One," I yelled at the top of my lungs. It was a beautiful day in Salinas. I was at the bar-at the old Brass Rail Restaurant.
I just ordered my cocktail, a Manhattan on the stem. All hell broke loose at 5:04pm. My drink flew off the bar. The bartender ran out. The big window crashed. I looked across Main Street, a big chunk of the Cominos Hotel came crashing down. I looked at other customers--most sat still, like the "Terra Cotta army" of China. I yelled, "Move, NOW." It was a mad dash to the exit.
My home was intact. My portable radio on batteries worked. No power, no TV. I noticed all the neighbors stayed indoors.
No, I don''t have earthquake insurance. No, we didn''t buy emergency supplies.
"Let''s wait and see," I suggested to the wife. "Let''s stock up on canned food, water, batteries. At least a case of Jack Daniels." That was 10 years ago. We still live as always.
I say, Let''s live it up. I say, Let''s order one more Manhattan cocktail on the stem.
It''s later than you think! Bill Baltezar, Salinas
The Fly Iwas in the bedroom, rolled newspaper in hand, trying to swat a fly in the window. When the house lurched, I dropped the newspaper and forgot the fly (which I think is still buzzing around somewhere), and crouched in the bedroom doorway watching a lamp do a hula dance in the living room.
At the first pause, I ran out into the street, swaying like the town drunkard on a roller coaster. About that time my neighbor arrived home in his car and got out. "I think there is something wrong with my transmission," he exclaimed. "Not your transmission," I replied. "You just drove through an earthquake."
By some miracle, nothing in the house broke or even fell. But the power was out, I couldn''t watch TV, and the phone lines were jammed so I couldn''t communicate with my wife, who was in Washington State, for three days.
The first evening I walked the neighborhood under a full moon, free of the glare of street lights, then spent the remainder at one of our neighbors'' homes, quietly playing a Mexican harp by candlelight. Bruce Cowan, Pacific Grove
This Old House My husband, Roy, and I finished an early dinner and were all set to watch a World Series game. We were settled comfortably in our living room. Suddenly the house started to move-the TV screen went blank, the house kept on moving-things began to fall to the floor. We couldn''t get out of our chairs. I shouted, "It''s not going to stop this time!" Then the shaking stopped. We stood up, looked at each other and began to react to what had just happened. First thoughts were of our family members. My 90-year-old mother lived in her own apartment and Roy''s 80-year-old aunt lived at the Resetar Hotel, in downtown Watsonville.
Since our house had very little damage, Roy went to check on the two senior citizens. He found Mom serving milk and cookies to her very shook-up neighbors. Her apartment was in shambles but she was okay. She had been sitting in her rocking chair reading her newspaper. She said, "It was like riding a bucking horse," when her chair started to move. She never left her home.
Auntie was safe and sitting in the parking lot behind the Resetar. She spent a week with us. Lots of damage to the Resetar.
Our neighborhood was very lucky. Small amount of damage. Everyone was just doing what had to be done before it got dark. We are true survivors on this block. We had a few tense moments with the aftershocks. Our senses were heightened to any movement we felt, and to this day, any movement will take us back to 10 years ago. We have lived in our little house for 42 years and each time I walk in the front door I always feel like our little house gives me a hug. On Oct. 17, 1989, it gave me an extra big hug to let me know we were both okay and will be the next time an earthquake happens. Ramona Ingersoll, Watsonville
Rattled, Not Shaken Was anyone else walking around Pacific Grove that late afternoon who didn''t feel the earthquake?
I was ambling along the shore near Lovers Point with my friend Kate--it was her birthday. We didn''t even feel a tremor. Not ''til I got home to my 8th Street cottage did I know something was amiss. The cat, wide-eyed, cowered on a high shelf. He''d never been there before. The electricity was off. In fact, things were eerily quiet: no telephone-wire hum, no cars, no birdsong, no noise.
My neighbor said there had been a serious earthquake. We listened to the news on a battery-powered transistor radio. Before long people gathered around the hibachis and barbecue cookers-in their front yards. Candles and lanterns were set out. A feeling of camaraderie and relief set in. We were OK but worried about the people in Santa Cruz and the Bay Area.
I think the electricity was off for two days. Safeway let us shop, one by one, with an employee carrying a flashlight. Shoppers were allowed to buy only one bag of ice and one bag of charcoal with their groceries. Everyone was cooperative as we waited in long lines.
Why didn''t I feel the earthquake? My dad, a geologist, said the sand beneath my feet absorbed the shock waves. Pity, I happen to like being rattled around a bit in an earthquake. Margaux Baker, Monterey
Screenplay Iwas newly separated and there was that kind of sadness that hangs on people when they experience a loss. I wasn''t in Monterey, but in Palo Alto tending some children at a day care center, one of three jobs I was holding. I took one to the restroom and remember the earth moving as if a giant serpent were snaking underneath. Trees seemed to rise and fall on that wave.
When I went home my teenage daughter and I sat at the table of our little house, with my beautiful old Springer at my feet. We spread chunky peanut butter on Hershey almond chocolate bars, ate them by candlelight and listened to the radio that sat like a roast in the center of the table. Two women, mother and daughter, and a she-dog in a manless house after a ''quake, talking. It was a time I will always treasure. I sometimes wonder if my daughter, a screenwriting film school graduate student remembers it the way I do, and if it will ever appear in her scripts. Neli Moody, Pacific Grove
Last Bus I was in an education course at Stevenson College [at UC Santa Cruz]. The weather had been quite warm those past few days. At the residence where I was staying there were two lovable German Shepherd dogs. Even they had been unusually quiet.
Something else which didn''t strike me as odd until after the ''quake was the fact that there weren''t any afternoon breezes along Calabasas Road where I was. Also, there was no sign of insects or flies. It was reminiscent of a calm dry day, similar to those I''d spent 12 years earlier in Rwanda and Burundi as a volunteer teacher of English. I can shut my eyes now, and see and feel the dry dust on the Ruzizi Plain and the slight tremors.
But back at Stevenson, the ''quake seemed to strike without warning. I remember a few fellow students who weren''t native Californians as some of us were. They burst out crying and shouting; they were so afraid. Most everyone that I could see around me had either gotten down on the ground or had been tossed there. I could still hear some students'' cries or shrieks.
Despite the advice and warnings of others around me, I began to walk off the university campus and down the hill to where I could catch a bus back to Watsonville. Maybe it would only make it part of the way. I had to find out how far I could get on it. Suddenly we were apprised of the fact that it was to be the last transit bus to Watsonville that day. Watsonville itself had been subjected to a great deal of damage and destruction, right along with Santa Cruz. ( I had seen the downtown area of Santa Cruz and it was an awful sight that I don''t want to recall even now 10 years later.)
I had to get back to those dogs to see how they were. I was fearing that the three apiary stands had toppled over and the German Shepherds were being stung by swarms of bees.
Getting out of the bus in downtown Watsonville and getting in my car, I was relieved that it started without any problem. I drove straight out to the hill above Calabasas Road and stopped the car. Walking quickly up to the house, I found the dogs crouched against the house, frightened but quite elated to see a familiar face.
I''m not frightened by the thought of another big ''quake. Nevertheless, I do feel strongly that we all need to be prepared for any natural disaster. John Escalona, Seaside
Shopping Spree Just 18...shopping with my friend Rose. Contempo at Del Monte Shopping Center is having a sale; undies six for $20! As we make our selections we hang them on our arms to keep them separated. Then, the shaking began. It takes a second to absorb what is happening. Sunglasses and other accessories that were hanging come crashing down. There''s no shelter, everything is glass. We cling to each other, thinking, Oh no is this the "Big One"?
Finally the shaking stops. We start to dash out, only to realize we still have underwear hanging on our arms. We turn them over to the clerks who then join us outside as we huddle together on a bench in shock. We all need a smoke. I hand them out, we have become instant friends. We watch windows rattle with aftershocks. We are all too scared to move. It takes 20 minutes and three cigarettes before I can get my legs to hold me again.
Home to check for damages, only open cabinets, we''re lucky. We turn on the radio and hear the horrific reports.
All my life I have lived here, and this is the first earthquake I''ve felt. It seems so unreal, no power, no phone, our radio the only connection to the outside world. We camp out in my driveway with a barbecue so we can have coffee and hot dogs. We help our neighbors find candles, they''ve just moved from Michigan and are looking dazed.
The aftershocks keep the fear close to the surface for a long time. I sleep in my doorway for two weeks. I''ve only felt one other earthquake since then, and don''t look forward to more, but know they will come. This time at least I will be prepared. Catherine Larson, Monterey
A World Apart When I came out of a Vipassana meditation center, Dhama Bhoumi, in the Blue Mountains near Sydney Australia, after 10 days of silence and separation from the world, many people-including complete strangers-inquired about my family in California. I thought it was a strange reaction to my response to their question, "Where are you from in the States?"
After the second day of the enigma, I found out why there were so many questions: the Big One had hit! As one of my brothers, Mark, was living in the Sunset district of San Francisco at the time, I was very concerned about contacting him, but it was very difficult to get telephone contact.
I remember being impressed that American Express offered to get customers'' messages back and forth across the Pacific to San Francisco through their communication lines.
In our family we have a rule: Call Mom if you are within 200 miles of a disaster so she won''t worry. I called her first and passed a message from my other brother, Jack, who was working on a "Jeopardy" show when the first wire reports of the ''quake occurred. He immediately called Mark, who was recuperating from surgery. Ascertaining that Mark was unharmed before the phone service was interrupted, he called Mom in Texas.
I was in week 10 of a trip around the world when the ''quake hit. Even though I wasn''t here, it affected me after the event in a profound way and I felt very, very far from home. N.Z. Carol, Carmel
One Second At 5:03:59, I stopped for a slice of pizza in Morgan Hill, on my way to my daughter Gina''s house, to welcome home my fifth grandchild, Arianna, whose birth I witnessed less than 24 hours before. They had just arrived home. My grandsons were still at day care and my granddaughter was on her way home with my then-significant other. My son, Dean, was "holding down the fort," the Cosmic General Store, my business, around the corner, that he helped me run.
One second later at 5:04, disaster hit. Everything happened so fast, yet in slow motion. The waitress came running and screaming past my table where I sat paralyzed with fear. As I stood, my back towards the door, I turned my head to the right as the plate glass windows imploded around me. One large piece brushing my nose. God was with me. I had not even a scratch.
I was walking toward my car. People were filtering out of other stores in shock, like zombies.
The silence was deafening. I drove back to my store. Dean was OK, the store a shambles. We raced to Gina''s house...by the grace of God, we were all spared. Our homes, business, possessions, et al, were of no importance. Our family had survived.
No services were performed in our "neighborhood." Everyone was in their own universe. Picking up the pieces. Looking for family and friends. For six months after the ''quake, I slept in my clothes, ready to bolt. Sleeping bag and precious photographs safely in the trunk of my car.
I do not think often of the next Big One. I have found inner peace and contentment. I refuse to live in fear. Why angst over an act of God for which we have no control?
This day is indelibly imprinted in my mind''s eye. It is amazing how soon some forget. When I hear people bemoaning their fate, I remind them of 5:03:59, Oct. 17, 1989. What a difference one second made.
Enjoy being. Carolee Vogel, Pacific Grove
Fear & Trembling
Not Laughing We were new arrivals to California. Having been in tornadoes and hurricanes, being a military family, we anticipated our first "shaker" on the infamous West Coast. We were sitting in our two-story Pacific Grove apartment watching the beginning of the World Series when suddenly everything started to shake. I ran to the phone and dialed my mother-in-law in Chicago immediately and, laughing, I said: "Hey, Mom, we are having our first earthquake." Suddenly the phone went dead, the electricity went down and the magnitude of what had just happened became quite clear. I don''t laugh at tremors anymore. Denise Guarneri, Monterey
Still Shaking On the walkway to my apartment, home from work, I heard a rumbling sound, felt unsteady on my feet, and realized the building was moving! It shook so much I thought it might throw me off the third floor. Fear struck. I ran and opened my door, but my apartment was moving. I ran back to the stairs; but what if it crumbles and I''m caught...I felt helpless. Trapped. Nowhere to hide, no doorway good enough. I froze, trembling, in the middle of the room. It finally stopped. Eerie silence, then a door flung open and someone yelled, "Holy cow!"
Shaken, I glanced around; no destruction. I thought, "I could be dead." I grabbed the phone and left my mother a message: "We had a terribly strong earthquake. Really bad. But I''m fine. We''re OK here." The line went dead. She later thanked me for that; she saw the news, couldn''t get through, and would have worried sick. Everybody was out, fearing aftershocks. I had a knot in my throat. A lady came and hugged me. A neighbor who worked for PG&E and was aware of fire danger, came around checking, "Are you really scared?" I nodded. He said, "It''s nothing. In Vietnam buildings blew up right in front of me." I mumbled, "You can avoid war, but this?"
The manager, who lived here since the place was built, said this building was very strong, and explained how the structure was reinforced. That made me feel better. Still, for many nights, actually for weeks, maybe months, I slept with shoes, jacket, keys, purse and flashlight nearby, ready to grab and go. I also kept a sleeping bag, some food and water in my car. In fact, I still do.
I never got used to it. Mabelle Lernoud, Monterey