Friday, October 18, 2013

Remembering the Loma Prieta earthquake

Jocelyn Sherman, a long-time friend, reminded me yesterday that October 17 was the 24th anniversary of the earthquake in San Francisco called the “Loma Prieta” earthquake.  Like her I was in it—and it was unbelievable.
I was in San Francisco working for the United Farm Workers.  I had left seminary for a year and was working on a campaign against Safeway.  We had already organized many rallies and spent quite a lot of time outside their stores asking them not to sell grapes.  I was on the second floor of a building in the Tenderloin district making some copies at 5:04 p.m. 
All of a sudden I felt like I was surfing.  The floor was moving.  I looked up at the ceiling and saw that it was moving too.  Earthquake!!  I didn’t know what to do—I was from the Midwest—the earth didn’t move there.  My natural instinct was to get to the ground floor.  I got to the stairwell and ran down as fast as I could.  As I was running down the stairs the thought went through my mind that I could die.  I made it to the ground floor and ran out the door.  “Come back in,” a group of people yelled at me.  Being from the Midwest I didn’t realize that the safest place to be in an earthquake was under a door.  I ran back in—and the earthquake stopped.
Wow—I eventually learned that the earthquake measured 6.9 on the Richter scale; 63 people were killed.
Making it through the earthquake depended on where a person was.  I was living at a Catholic priests’ residence near Lake Merritt in Oakland at the time.  I traveled on the 880 freeway and the Bay Bridge every morning.  If I had been in the wrong place I would have been added to the 63. 
When the earthquake was over we warily walked outside the building.  Chips of stone had fallen out of it.  Everything was chaotic.  No street lights worked; the homeless were directing traffic; we saw a huge fire that erupted hundreds of feet in the air in the Marina District; we got word that we couldn’t drive back to Oakland over the above-pictured Bay Bridge so started back over the Golden Gate Bridge.
As we walked to the car we experienced the first of many aftershocks.  The first one measured over 5 on the Richter scale.  I hated the aftershocks.  We never knew when they would hit, but we learned that they would come. 
After making it over the Golden Gate bridge we stopped to eat Chinese food.   The group I was with could hardly talk.  This was long before cell phones, so we had no way to reach others who were working with us.  I later found out that my friend, Irv Hershenbaum was in a building overlooking Lake Merritt.  He said that the building swayed back and forth.
After a very long drive we made it back to where I was staying.  We had no electricity.  I called my parents and shared stories with everyone else there.
I love an adventure, but I don’t need to ever experience an earthquake again.

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