Remembering the Loma Prieta Earthquake

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It’s been three decades since the Loma Prieta earthquake left parts of the San Francisco Bay Area in ruins, but the effects of the earthquake can still be felt to this day.

On Oct. 17, 1989, Game 3 of the 1989 World Series was about to be viewed by millions of Americans including people in the Bay Area who were trying to get back home to see the game between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s in what was dubbed the “Battle of the Bay” World Series. However, at 5:04 p.m., just minutes before the game was scheduled to begin, a 6.9 earthquake hit the San Francisco Bay Area—the event would change the landscape of the Bay Area forever.

The Loma Prieta Earthquake took down a part the Bay Bridge, two highways, homes of a San Francisco District, and buildings in Santa Cruz.

The hardest hit and the epicenter of the earthquake took place in Santa Cruz, where a number of buildings—both businesses and homes—were destroyed. Most of the buildings that were destroyed in Santa Cruz were built from brick, and as a result, these destroyed building were vulnerable to earthquake damage and new building codes that would sustain a large earthquake were enforced for all future California building construction projects.

Dr. Masao Suzuki was a Stanford University economics student was nearby the epicenter of the earthquake and described some of the damage that the college suffered from the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989.

“I was actually working on a computer and we were mainly worked off the main frame, and so the shaking started and I remember the main frame shut down because of the shaking,” Dr. Suzuki said. “Basically, what had happened was that the chimney on the main building had collapsed. Luckily, it’s just the chimney and no one got hurt, but it was an old building and the older buildings at Stanford suffered extensive damage from the earthquake.”

A part of the San Francisco Bay Bridge collapsed during the earthquake that it had to close for a month. For example, the moment where a woman was driving her car and crashed into the cracked portion of the Bay Bridge was captured on video camera. The Bay Bridge would reopen on Nov. 17, 1989, but this was just the beginning of the several ripple effects that would be felt for decades that came.

As a result of the earthquake, planning for the Eastern Span of the Bay Bridge began in the 1990s and construction began in early 2002 with an original completion date of 2007. However, problems arose during the construction of the Eastern Span of the Bay Bridge that the opening date was pushed back until 2013, when it finally opened. In 2017, the Eastern Span of the Bay Bridge was demolished over the course of six weekends in the fall of that year.

As the Bay Bridge closed only for a month, two highways weren’t lucky: Two highways had to close permanently after suffering major damage from the earthquake.

Embarcadero Freeway—also known as the California State Route 480—was severely damaged during the earthquake that it had to close down the highway for good. However, prior to the 6.9 earthquake in 1989, there were plans to demolish the Embarcadero Freeway, and a ballot measure was left to voters in 1987, but it failed to pass at the ballot box. Then, in 1991, the Board of Supervisors barely voted in favor of the demolition of the Embarcadero Highway—with six voting in favor, five voting against the measure—and it was demolished that same year.

Today, the Embarcadero Freeway has been replaced by the Muni Rail tracks, palm trees, a baseball stadium, shops, homes, and a park that replaced the offramps of the former highway that became known as the Sue Bierman Park.

Mary R. Torres Volken, the Reference and Instruction Librarian Academic Support and Learning Technologies at the Skyline College Library, was nearby where the Embarcadero Freeway once stood. She was working at a high-rise building called the Embarcadero One in Downtown San Francisco when the earthquake hit in 1989.

“I was going to speak with the office manager, and his office had glass windows on all three sides,” Volken said. “All of a sudden, he came rushing out and threw himself under one of the desks, and I didn’t feel the building shaking.”

The Cypress Freeway not only suffered from severe damage from the earthquake, but it was where 42 people died and dozens were injured as a result of the collapse of the highway. The highway was later demolished and the Cypress Freeway was renamed as the Mandela Parkway after years of debate.

In the Marina District in San Francisco, the earthquake damaged 124 buildings and residents were asked to leave because the buildings, which were built on a landfill, were unsafe. Within a decade, new buildings went up and the landscape of the Marina District forever changed.

Despite the damage that was caused by the Loma Prieta Earthquake in parts of the San Francisco Bay Area, the strong earthquake shaking could be felt as far as Petaluma—as Kim Saccio-Kent, the Assistive Technology Specialist at the Skyline College Disability Resource Center.

“I worked at a small press, and we had a big warehouse…it was all wood, and I remember standing on one end and I had to hang onto the door because it was so strong,” Saccio-Kent described.

Even to this day, the ripple effects stemming from the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake are still being felt three decades later:

Since the earthquake, a total of $74 billion have been invested throughout the San Francisco Bay Area from government agencies to retrofit facilities.

 

  • Candlestick Park—once home to the San Francisco 49ers and San Francisco Giants—was demolished and both of its respective teams moved into two separate sports stadiums, the Giants in 2000, followed by the 49ers in 2014. In addition, there were plans to build homes and a mall; however, it was scrapped a couple of years due to the changing landscape of the retail store.
  • On the 30th anniversary of the Loma Prieta Earthquake, UC Berkeley came out with an app called MyShake, which is designed to issue early warning alerts in California for incoming earthquakes that are a magnitude of 4.5 or higher. The app will only notify users if the earthquake is closer to the epicenter of the earthquake.
  • The earthquake prompted new building code regulations to go into full force that would make buildings withstand a strong earthquake and retrofit existing buildings.