October 17 – The Great Quake of ’89

Here is my annual post about the earthquake that I experienced in the Bay Area on this day in 1989. Many of you may remember this as the World Series earthquake, as it happened just before a World Series Game between the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants. A lot of you may have seen this post already, but I know there are a lot of new people too, so I’ll repost this.

summaryOctober 17, 1989 at 5:04 pm was a time that I will never forget. With no exaggeration, I thought that was going to be the last day of my life. That was the day of the Great Quake of ’89, or as it is formally known as – the Loma Prieta earthquake. Or if I mention it these days, I say that is the earthquake that happened during the World Series, and then it rings a bell to people who lived outside of California’s Bay Area.

Today is the 29th anniversary of the earthquake. It was on a Tuesday that year. At the time, I was working at the Oakland Naval Hospital as a cook. My hours were 4:30am-6:30pm. I was looking forward to watching game 3 of the World Series after work. It was a huge deal in that area as both teams were local – the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s.

Then at 5:04, as I was walking through the kitchen getting ready to clean up, it sounded like there was a train quietly rumbling towards us. The sound was getting louder and louder, and then I could feel the building start to shake. Then the hospital started shaking more and more violently. It was starting to shake so much, that I had to hold myself up against a big metal table. There was a row of ovens (empty) behind me, and their doors were falling open. Then it felt like the whole ground was going to crumble apart under my feet, and the whole hospital was going to collapse on top of us. It was dinner time, so there were quite a few people in the cafeteria, and several people screamed. After what felt like an eternity, the shaking slowed to a stop. The earthquake lasted around 15 seconds, but I could swear that it was really 15 minutes. When everything became still, there were actually some people who actually cheered. I don’t know if they were cheering because we were all still in one piece, or if they were just sick and cheered as if it was an amusement park ride. Not too long after, there was an aftershock that was even worse than some earthquakes. A lot of people freaked out and screamed again. But that only lasted for a split second. I remember that there were still aftershocks occurring a few weeks after the earthquake

We put on whatever radios we could find, and we found out that a part of the Bay Bridge collapsed, and that the Cypress Freeway had collapsed. Then we got news that we may be getting a lot of patients brought to our hospital. All the corpsmen and doctors and nurses had to be called in. While we were waiting for them to come in, some of us cooks got a quick training on how to carry a stretcher so we could bring patients in from an ambulance. We waited outside and listened to the news come in about all of the damage. Only one ambulance came in while I was waiting, and I didn’t have to carry the person in. Things could have been much worse. The highways that had collapsed normally would have been bumper to bumper with cars and trucks. But since it was near game time for the World Series, there were a lot of people who were either at the game at Candlestick Park, or they had left work early, or they were staying late to have parties at work. 63 people died, and 3,757 were injured.
I left work around 12:30 am and got home around 1:00 am. This was at a time when people did not really have cell phones, and my family was on the East Coast. So, it was 4:00 am on the East when I got home, and I was debating whether I should call my family at that hour. I decided that I better, and it was a good decision. My mother answered the phone on the first ring!

This was a day that I will never forget as long as I live.

Here is the beginning of the televised portion of the World Series:

Here is a news clip of the Cypress Freeway collapse:

And here is the Bay Bridge:

People were trapped in the rubble of the Cypress Freeway, and there were rescue efforts for days. On October 21, 4 days after the quake, a survivor was found. His name was Buck Helms. “Lucky Buck”, as the media dubbed him, was freed from the wreckage, having spent 90 hours trapped in his crushed car under the rubble. Unfortunately, he died 29 days later from respiratory failure at the age of 57.

It took years for the area to rebuild. And to this day, there is still some rebuilding going on in the area from this disaster.

3 thoughts on “October 17 – The Great Quake of ’89”

  1. Thanks so much for reading this, Jerry! I’m sure I must have seen you around there at some point. I worked in the galley, and I lived in the barracks there for a short time. Did you go on the Mercy too when we were deployed to Desert Shield/Desert Storm?
    Again, thanks so much for reading and commenting. I really appreciate it!


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