Let’s see…what would I have been doing at about 7pm on October 17, 1989? If memory serves me right (and it doesn’t), I was probably sitting at home relaxing after yet another day of exposure to college life. Baseball’s World Series was going on at the time, but since it was Oakland and San Francisco and not the Atlanta Braves (who had endured another horrible season), I wasn’t really interested.
At the same time in San Francisco, people may have been heading home early or driving to Candlestick Park for the big game. Many would have been working in their offices or taking an afternoon nap. Regardless, the lives of Bay-area residents were about to be turned upside down…in the most literal sense.
Just a couple minutes past 5pm, a monster earthquake, measuring 6.9 on the Richter Scale, struck the Bay area, caused by a large slip along the infamous San Andreas Fault. According to experts, the earthquake only lasted about 15 seconds or so, but the energy released in the slippage was equivalent to exploding (and this is hard to fathom) nearly 54 billion pounds of TNT. That’s more than 1,000 times larger than the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki. That’s a lot of power and, needless to say, the results were catastrophic.
While damage was concentrated in San Francisco, it certainly wasn’t limited to just that area, as heavy damage was reported in locations nearly 60 miles from the epicenter. The quake was felt as far east as Reno, NV and as far south as Ventura, CA. Thousands and thousands of buildings and homes collapsed, numerous sections of the Interstates split apart, as did hundred of highways and city streets. Many bridges were heavily damaged, with some collapsing altogether. Ruptured gas lines caused numerous fires. Total damage would run into the billions of dollars. Even the Goodyear Blimp, flying above Candlestick Park, was bounced around by the quake.
Sixty-three people lost their lives as a result of that 15 seconds in October, two-thirds of them on the collapsed Cypress Street Viaduct in Oakland. More than 3,700 people were injured, and hundreds of thousands of lives were changed forever, as upheaval, uncertainty, and helplessness became the order of the days and months ahead.
Almost 20 years later, the homes have been rebuilt, buidings have been reconstructued, and the roads and bridges are servicing traffic again. But the San Andreas still lurks…
Recommended Reading: The Loma Pietra Earthquake – The U.S. Geological Survey site.