Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. It’s a Quake. A Really BIG Quake!

 

We all have that “where were you” memory associated with big historic events. Where were you on 9/11? Where were you when Armstrong walked on the moon? For those of us of a somewhat advanced age, where were you when Kennedy was shot? Events we share, but are also particular to just us.

This past July was the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing. I remember watching on tv as a fifteen-year-old in our family room in San Jose with Mom, Dad, and the two brothers. Dad worked for Lockheed Missiles and Space and had previously worked for Aerojet General, an Apollo engine contractor. I remember Dad getting up and coming to each of the three boys, looking us in the face and shaking our hands. He and Mom had been born before Lindbergh’s flight, lived through depression and war, and now, we had achieved this.

Another event happened thirty years ago today. I spent the summer of 1989 working on television broadcasts of the Giants and the A’s. Both were having a good year. Baseball fans recall Will Clark, Kevin Mitchell, Matt Williams, Mike Krukow, Dave Stewart, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, and Dennis Eckersley as just a few of the players that would meet in the Fall Classic. It was the first and still the only time they would meet in the World Series.

Oakland took a 2-0 lead in the first two games at the Oakland Coliseum. The network coverage was on ABC. Major League Baseball packages their show to the world, allowing for each country to add their announcers and languages. I was hired as one of three tape operators for the French-Canadian feed. For game 3, we were in a smaller truck parked against the wall of Candlestick Park, right at the press entrance. We had a camera in our booth in the football press box and another for pre and post-game interviews. The ABC trucks were parked further up the third-base side of the outside wall of the park with various station news vans in-between.

As we came on the air, Tom, our booth cameraman, was standing on a table so he could frame Claude and Denis, our announcers, with the field behind them. At 5:04, things started to shake. A friend who was coming into the park to watch the game told me he looked across the parking lot and saw cars rising and falling as if a wave was going through it. Jon, Jerry, and I looked at each other in our little tape room as we realized it was an earthquake. Our two truck engineers were from out of state and they bolted for the door. The truck’s power went out as we shook. Now we, the locals, followed our engineers out the door and away from the wall of concrete above the truck. The quake lasted for, at most, 15 seconds. That may not seem like a long time, but please look at your watch’s second hand, sit quietly for fifteen seconds and imagine your world bouncing all the while.

Once the shaking stopped, the capacity crowd let loose with a huge cheer. We realized that this was the biggest quake that any of us had ever experienced. Power was out for all except the local news vans using their on-board generators. As we waited for power to be restored, I wandered up the row looking in the open doors of the vans. That is where I saw the first pictures coming in from the Marina district, the Bay Bridge, and the collapsed freeway in Oakland. Our little baseball game had turned quickly into an international disaster story. 

We waited for the next three hours as the dusk turned into a very dark night. The hope was that power would be restored and we would be the originating source for Canadian news coverage. But it would not be restored that night. We were asked to remain available for the next few days just in case we went back up. That didn’t happen either. I left southeast San Francisco in complete darkness and drove home down the mostly darkened peninsula. In my Menlo Park apartment, my power was out and would stay out for the next three days. My floor to ceiling bookshelves had all collapsed. In the small pool outside, more than a foot of water had shaken out.

After midnight, the phone rang. Dan Rather was coming to Oakland, was I available to work there for a few days? Having committed to the Canadians, I said I wasn’t. A friend took that job and was on the clock for the next five days straight. Once released until the Series would restart, I did work for the PBS station in town feeding the national network. I was on a crew that went down to Watsonville and Santa Cruz where the damage was as serious as the Bay Area to the north. Aftershocks continued for the next week. Geraldo came to the Marina district and did a show I worked on. I also worked on the multi venue benefit concert for earthquake relief.

Ten days after the quake, the World Series resumed with multiple first responders throwing out the ceremonial first pitches. Oakland swept the Giants and the Bay Bridge Series ended even as crews were working to rebuild the namesake bridge. It ended an October that the Bay Area would never forget. Nor will I.

(On a familial note, our great grandfather, great grandmother, and grandfather Watt survived the 1906 earthquake and fire. They were evacuated to Alameda across the Bay.)

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There are 19 comments.

  1. EJHill Podcaster

    I was nowhere near that earthquake, but did experience the one in Seattle that halted the Indians-Mariners game on May 3, 1996. When a large object such as a stadium physically moves on you? Even the atheists begin to pray.

    • #1
    • October 17, 2019, at 12:05 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  2. Brian Watt Member

    The interruption of the World Series broadcast happens about 4:32 into the video below. 

    • #2
    • October 17, 2019, at 12:34 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  3. Brian Watt Member

    And more thorough coverage here:

    • #3
    • October 17, 2019, at 12:48 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  4. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge

    That was one glorious account, Don. A shame that the camera folks couldn’t keep on filming – that would have been some footage.

    I remember my son who was a HS freshman, hopping on his bike after it was over and going around to tour the neighborhood in San Rafael Calif to see if any buildings had fallen. (None had.)

    I also remember the Marina burning, as seen on TV. And the horrible scene in the underground sections of the East Bay freeway that had collapsed, killing around 250 people.

    Always felt so grateful for how the two home teams were playing the World Series, as that one event may have saved countless lives. People at home watching the game, and those watching in the stadium, were not out on the freeways during commute time as they normally might have been.

    • #4
    • October 17, 2019, at 1:04 PM PST
    • Like
  5. Donwatt Coolidge
    Donwatt Post author

    CarolJoy, Above Top Secret (View Comment):

    Always felt so grateful for how the two home teams were playing the World Series, as that one event may have saved countless lives. People at home watching the game, and those watching in the stadium, were not out on the freeways during commute time as they normally might have been.

    So true, especially on the Cypress structure freeway. 

    Down where I lived in Menlo, the old Dumbarton Bridge had just been replaced with a new bridge.The old bridge only had two lanes in each direction. The geniuses at Caltrans had planned for the new bridge again to have only two lanes each way. With the Bay Bridge closed, the quake forced them to restripe the bridge with one more lane each direction. It never changed back. That’s about the only good thing I can think of from the quake.

     

    • #5
    • October 17, 2019, at 1:22 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  6. ctlaw Coolidge

    I was on a bus in West LA. I did not feel it through the suspension, but my roommate and my neighbor both felt it at home. 

    • #6
    • October 17, 2019, at 1:42 PM PST
    • 1 like
  7. Donwatt Coolidge
    Donwatt Post author

    EJHill (View Comment):

    I was nowhere near that earthquake, but did experience the one in Seattle that halted the Indians-Mariners game on May 3, 1996. When a large object such as a stadium physically moves on you? Even the atheists begin to pray.

    Even Ron Reagan?

    • #7
    • October 17, 2019, at 1:54 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  8. EJHill Podcaster

    Donwatt : Even Ron Reagan?

    With a Grande Jeté.

    • #8
    • October 17, 2019, at 2:07 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  9. Donwatt Coolidge
    Donwatt Post author

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Donwatt : Even Ron Reagan?

    With a Grande Jeté.

    Vous avez raison, mon ami. Formidable!

    • #9
    • October 17, 2019, at 2:19 PM PST
    • Like
  10. Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… Thatcher

    CarolJoy, Above Top Secret (View Comment):

     

    I also remember the Marina burning, as seen on TV. And the horrible scene in the underground sections of the East Bay freeway that had collapsed, killing around 250 people.

     

    An employee of my company, in the Bay Area on a business trip, was killed when his car was crushed when the top level of the East Bay freeway collapsed pancaking many cars. Our local plant manager, driving another car, just made it thru the section before it collapsed.

    • #10
    • October 17, 2019, at 3:43 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  11. Donwatt Coolidge
    Donwatt Post author

    I should say that another benefit of the quake’s aftermath was the eventual destruction of SF’s Embarcadero Freeway. It was a similar design to the collapsed freeway in Oakland and completely cut off the city from its waterfront. (You can see the effect in the early scenes of the movie “Bullitt.”) It was damaged in the quake and , as is typical in SF, a heated debate started up on whether to restore or demolish it.

    After a year and a half, demolition began. The Embarcadero today is a wide street-level boulevard that runs the length of the waterfront. You can walk uninterruptedly from the Giants ballpark to Fisherman’s Wharf.

    Of course San Francisco being San Francisco, a new “homeless services” shelter will soon open on the Embarcadero offering tourists a whole new SF view.

    • #11
    • October 17, 2019, at 4:17 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  12. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge

    Gumby Mark (R-Meth Lab of Demo… (View Comment):

    CarolJoy, Above Top Secret (View Comment):

     

    I also remember the Marina burning, as seen on TV. And the horrible scene in the underground sections of the East Bay freeway that had collapsed, killing around 250 people.

     

    An employee of my company, in the Bay Area on a business trip, was killed when his car was crushed when the top level of the East Bay freeway collapsed pancaking many cars. Our local plant manager, driving another car, just made it thru the section before it collapsed.

    That is one tragic story. Talk about bad timing. The story of the plant manager indicates that a few minutes earlier or later, and the person might have been okay.

    • #12
    • October 17, 2019, at 6:48 PM PST
    • Like
  13. Richard Easton Member

    A woman who was in the upper deck at Candlestick said that everyone spontaneously held hands when the quake hit. She was convinced that it would have collapsed if the quake had lasted a couple of more seconds.

    In 1992-3 I lived in Tiburon. A woman in my church said her grandfather helped design the Oakland Bay Bridge and it performed as designed (one span could collapse without taking out the whole bridge).

    • #13
    • October 17, 2019, at 7:40 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  14. Django Member

    I had moved to CA in 1985, so that was not my first earthquake, but the others didn’t come close. I made it to my apartment in one piece. Power was out; streetlights weren’t working. Good Samaritans were out with flashlights trying to direct traffic, but most drivers weren’t complying, even with the cops’ directions. I went inside my apartment taking the flashlight I had kept in my car. Phones were operative, so I called my parents in KY and let them know I was OK. The water was still on, so I took care of a call of nature, got some beer out of the refrigerator and decided to sleep in my car, as everyone else was doing in their cars. Fear of strong aftershocks and all that. Didn’t know how stable the building was despite the nice appearance.

    After three hours of discomfort in the Mustang, I said, “**** it! If I’m going to die tonight, I’ll die in comfort.” Went inside and slept the sleep of the just until the lights came on as power was restored. Then, I listened to the local radio stations to hear about the damage. One thing was particularly sad. Some kid in Los Gatos, IIRC, had panicked and jumped out of a fifth story window. No idea what he was hoping to achieve or escape. One thing was actually funny: A guy working in a SCIF didn’t know what had happened, so he just kept on working as the building’s emergency power had kicked in. It was his first earthquake and, in an interview, later, he explained that there was no one around to ask what had happened, so he just went about business as usual.

    • #14
    • October 17, 2019, at 8:11 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  15. Donwatt Coolidge
    Donwatt Post author

    In the old days, before wireless handsets and cell phones, your phone was powered by the phone company down the same wire that hooked you into the world. It would remain available even if your power was out. In fact, it will still work if you have an old fashioned wired phone. If there is an area wide outage, your wireless handset will not work and cell service might be problematic.

    It might be a good idea to have one of those old phones in a closet, just in case.

     

     

     

     

    • #15
    • October 17, 2019, at 9:32 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  16. Arahant Member

    Donwatt (View Comment):

    In the old days, before wireless handsets and cell phones, your phone was powered by the phone company down the same wire that hooked you into the world. It would remain available even if your power was out. In fact, it will still work if you have an old fashioned wired phone. If there is an area wide outage, your wireless handset will not work and cell service might be problematic.

    It might be a good idea to have one of those old phones in a closet, just in case.

    The problem is the wiring. The phone company now charges an arm-and-a-leg for the POTS phone lines. They have tried moving everything to digital and what amounts to Internet lines. Something happened with mine a few years back, and they basically said, “Wouldn’t you like to upgrade? We’ve been asking you for years. Please upgrade? We’ll charge you half as much.” So, now my phones go through the Internet modem.

    • #16
    • October 17, 2019, at 9:58 PM PST
    • 1 like
  17. Jon1979 Lincoln

    Our company’s annual meeting was scheduled for Oct. 18-19 in Monterey, so outside of the people coming in from other parts of Northern California, everyone was scheduled to fly into San Francisco on the 18th. Needless to say, no annual corporate meeting that year.

    • #17
    • October 17, 2019, at 10:04 PM PST
    • 1 like
  18. Vance Richards Member

    Donwatt: We all have that “where were you” memory associated with big historic events.

    I do remember where I was for that. About 3,000 miles away from San Francisco but sitting in front of the TV ready to watch the game. It was a little eerie when everything went silent. At least when the sound came back you knew the stadium didn’t collapse or anything. A bunch of my friends were over to watch the game. Ended up watching news coverage instead. Different sort of vibe, no wagering, but we did have beer so . . . 

    • #18
    • October 18, 2019, at 5:08 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  19. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member

    The aftermath of that event produced probably the most tremendous hangover ever. We went to a bar to watch the first game when the series resumed. We were in New Jersey, so nobody really cared that much. We had been to a Giants game in Candlestick the year before. (Coming from the NYC area we were flabbergasted when there were people at the bottom of the escalators saying a bright “Thank you for coming!” as we left at the end of the game.) I just had a sense of the historic nature of the whole thing and I was loudly cheering for the Giants. We sat at the bar. Beers kept appearing in front of me; I drank them. I spent a good hour walking up and down the street in the cold trying to prevent the world from spinning away. It was epic.

    • #19
    • October 18, 2019, at 7:55 AM PST
    • 2 likes