“Life in the Bay Area stood still”: A reporter’s recollection of the ’89 earthquake

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. As we look back over the 28 years since the temblor, Bay Area native Diana Gapuz walks San Francisco Diaries past the Battle of the Bay World Series, the ill-fated Cypress Structure, and a surreal commute in the aftermath to the KCBS newsroom in this firsthand account. We’ve all been supporting friends and family impacted by the fires in Northern California, and it’s reassuring to know that San Franciscans have always supported one another when disaster strikes. Here’s Diana:

We were rushing to get out the door, to watch Game 3 of the A’s-Giants World Series with friends. Several sharp jolts stopped us in our tracks. My husband, Marc, picked up our 17-month old daughter Emma, and we stood in a door frame.

The ground stopped moving. After years in news radio, hyperconscious of time, I nailed the length of the quake — 15 seconds. I called into my station, KCBS, first on the air to describe what I felt on rock-solid Albany Hill. Maybe spoke for 15 seconds. Then the anchor moved on to a reporter in the field.

Time to get on the road. Emma and I were heading to Berkeley to hang out with my morning co-editor, Christina. Marc was meeting friends in Oakland. By the time we reached Christina’s house, we were slowly realizing this wasn’t your usual tremor. Reporters from across the Bay were describing frightening scenes and frightened people.

Eventually we’d see the moment on national TV. In the middle of the pre-game from Candlestick, static flashed on the TV screen. ABC announcer Al Michaels’ voice, behind a green screen, finally declared, “That’s the greatest open in the history of television. Bar none.” A classic line, but it was the chaos at the sold-out ballpark that is most memorable.

Marc showed up at Christina’s. He’d driven down 880, the Nimitz, as long cracks opened up in the road. The CHP pulled him over. They might need to commandeer his car, a four-wheel drive Jeep Cherokee, to help out at the Cypress Structure in Oakland. But it was too dangerous.

The two-level freeway had pancaked, trapping and crushing people in their cars. Agonizing hours stretched into days as rescuers — first responders, survivors, and neighbors tried to save as many as they could. Many people, including A’s pitcher and Oakland native, Dave Stewart, held vigil. Forty-two people, out of 63 total, lost their lives in the Cypress.

Christina and I usually worked a 3 to 11 a.m. editor shift. The roadway collapse on the upper deck of the cantilever part of the Bay Bridge meant we’d have to drive from the East Bay through Marin, and down to the Golden Gate Bridge. We started the trek a little after midnight.

Utter darkness greeted us. Power was completely out in the north side of the city. At the end of each street at Marina Green, a person was sitting on a folding chair. Never found out why.

We reached One Embarcadero, and thankfully, one elevator was operational. The station was on the 32nd floor. On generator power, the newsroom was dim; the mood shocked, somber, and completely focused. Many of our crew had been working since 11 a.m. the day before, and several had been reporting from the game.

Life in the Bay Area stood still for days. And during that time, we all knew how important it was to get information out. One of my best friends told me he was glued to his transistor, listening to our station. It was a lifeline.

The tragedy and loss will always be with me. So will the appreciation for the small contribution I was able to make.

Were you here during the 1989 earthquake? Add an entry to San Francisco Diaries by sending us your story of the day and its aftermath. Here’s one, from reader Gabe Wachob, about being stuck on the 54-Felton during the earthquake.

Speaking of the NorCal fires: Muni Diaries Live storyteller and chef Richie Nakano has been organizing meal deliveries to the North Bay. Find him @linecook on Twitter to help out. And: Have you made your disaster go-bag yet? Here’s a helpful packing list from 72hours.org.

Photo of the Marina in the 1989 earthquake by @efraserc

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *