The Loma Prieta Earthquake: Many Memories

The 25th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake is tomorrow. The Loma Prieta earthquake was a major quake, with a magnitude of 6.9 on the Richter scale. Sixty three deaths and 3,757 injuries occurred because of the quake.

I was a student studying geology at UC Santa Cruz at the time. At 5:04 that evening I was in the McHenry library up on campus. I felt the shaking start. I was not too worried, as I had gone through several 5.0s in my life as a California Girl. I did look for a quick exit though – nope.

As the shaking continued and the lights went out I dove under a table, fully realizing how it wouldn’t help if the building crashed. Luckily the modern McHenry Library withstood the quake. Actually, it did it so well I didn’t realize the quake was so huge at first. Not until driving downtown and seeing every single brick chimney down and hearing on the radio that the Bay Bridge had collapsed. “Wait,” my Santa Cruz self said, “there is no bridge on Bay Street in Santa Cruz… oh my gosh! They mean the San Francisco Bay Bridge!” Then I knew.

After that, my lasting memories associated with the Loma Prieta Earthquake are of the very best of humanity. Strangers helping strangers and neighbors helping neighbors. The police, fire fighters and doctors from several states were everywhere. Indeed the whole country helped Santa Cruz and the Bay Area recover.

What do you remember from the 1989 Loma Prieta Quake? Please comment and share your memories. If you have photos you would like to share, please post them on our Facebook Page or email them to me at and I will add them to the photo gallery here.

About The Author

I really enjoy field trips. I love being in a cool place and having someone tell me about it. The problem is, you can’t always find a professor or park ranger-type to tell you all they know about the local rocks, plants, and history. So I decided to combine my love of things natural with mobile technology.

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  1. Yvonne

    25 years ago today was a day I will never forget. Seems like it was just yesterday. My mom and I had just dropped one of my fiends off at home and we were almost home. I remember looking at my mom and she looked at me and said wow do I have flats on all 4 tires. We pulled over on the side of the road just as the big windows in the restaurant we stopped in front of blew out and we knew it was not flat tires it was a earthquake that forever changed our lives and the lives of so many others. Once the shaking stopped we started home again as we drove just a few blocks to our house we looked all around at what was going on. Water was every where as we lived near the Pajaro River and water and sand was coming up thru the ground in little fissures. When we got home we noticed at the park that water was spraying up out of the fire hydrant and there was a faint smell of gas. We got in the house which had shifted about 6 inches off the foundation. We were evacuated because of the gas main leak and water main leak. We left to go check on my grandma and her husband and when we got back we found out we had been evacuated. We had to go to the school down the street and we tried walking back to the house as our dog was still at the house. We finally convinced the officer guarding the gate to let us get our dog. We got to house and got our dog and a few things and went back to the school. We were then evacuated to the National Guard Armory which was our home for about a week or so. Sleeping on the armory floor you could feel every little aftershock no matter how small it was. In the weeks and months that followed I have never seen our community come together as we did then. I am happy to call WATSONVILLE my home town.

    1. Ranger Gaudinski

      Thank you Yvonne for sharing that. I remember how my neighborhood came together too. We had no power for three days and we all met each other and talked and hung out on our porches at night. When the power came back on, we went back into our houses and it was never quite the same again. It really made me think about how electricity strongly affects culture.

  2. Tom Scully

    Twenty -five years ago, or 1/4 of century! Seems like a much shorter time since Loma Prieta. I was working as a Hazardous Materials Response Team officer with the San Jose Fire Department and needed to get to work the next morning. With Highway 17 closed I used Glenwood Drive which was barely passable itself. I drove slowly and good thing as I rounded a corner and saw a man lying in the middle of the road. I thought I was going to begin my shift on that lonely stretch of road until he rose up, stood up, put his camera away and walked back to his car. He was taking a picture of a raised crack in the roadway. Hope it was a stunning shot.

  3. Bill

    I just moved to the bay area in August, I lived in Daly City and worked in Oakland. At 4:45pm I would leave work and drive onto the Cypress structure at 5pm. The one night in 60 days I stayed late at work. It was to view a video of a workmate who had recently been on an Oakland A’s forum. At the time I didn’t know what a Cypress structure was, I never heard the term. When the quake hit we were still in the office. We had no damage at the office so we packed up and left. As I tried to get on the Cypress structure cars were coming off the on ramp. A weird sight, I was confused why and turned around and headed south on 880. I kept on hearing on the radio that the Cypress Structure collapsed. Being new to the bay area I didn’t put it together in my head what happen. 6 1/2 hours later I arrived home to some broken dishes and misc damage to the apartment. I was watching all the damage on the news and then it hit me what the Cypress Structure was. I saw the Ratto Rubber sign on top of a building, a sign that I passed every night on the way home.

    Earlier in the month my Mom and Sister came to visit, they took the ferry from SF to Oakland and I drove them back over the Bay Bridge. As they watched TV they kept on seeing what happened in Oakland and they thought I was dead. Seeing the endless freeway collapse on their screen with smoke and crushed cars they knew where I was supposed to be at 5:04pm. I tried using land lines to call but couldn’t. In 1989 I didn’t have a cell phone. I finally was able to call but could only talk to my father because Mom wasn’t in a position to speak.

    I thanked my workmate for making me stay late but I believe there was something greater holding me back. I’m not a very religious man but I did and do Thank God!

  4. Cindy Biggs Weiss

    My son was coming back to Santa Cruz from Watsonville and saw the traffic lights waving back and forth. My niece was returning to San Francisco from the East Bay and had just departed from the Bay Bridge before the collapse. I was stuck in Siskiyou County not able to communicate as the telephone lines were jammed. No cell phones. No word from anyone. The emptiness of not knowing their whereabouts was deafening. Finally, in the late evening my son called. I was able to sleep that night.

  5. Ranger Gaudinski

    Thanks Cindy. It is always hard when you don’t know if your loved ones are safe. My dad lives in Connecticut and he always calls me right after any little quake. News travels so fast these days sometimes it feels like he is calling even before its over.

  6. corey

    I just turned 13yrs old ten days before the quake it was my first year in college although I was born in New Zealand and dreamed of going to the U.S, and seen the transformation the bay area has gone through in the last quarter century when I visited a friend of mine who was from Santa Cruz proves that the bay area may fall but always come back stronger…
    what I can remember on the 6 o’clock that night was the collapsed section of the bay bridge and said to myself that lucky it wasn’t rush hour….
    when I visited San Francisco in 2011 and went across the bay bridge, it was like an feeling that I don’t know how to express it in words and just re-flecting back that night that I saw on the news had my heart ponding out of my chest….
    New Zealand gets a lot of quakes and the most recent was the 2009 that strunk Christchurch then again 5months later but we come back stronger better then ever…..
    I see it as the bay area has risen from the ashes better then ever and looking back now will us look to the future to be prepared for the big one again

    1. Ranger Gaudinski

      Thanks for writing Corey. Thankfully, California has good building codes that are enforced. So if you are going to be in a building during a large quake being in one in California is a good choice. I know the Loma Prieta earthquake caused a lot of building retrofits.

  7. Kathy Idoine

    I remember clearly hearing, then feeling the tremor. I was on the second floor of the Dominican Activities Building. I thought, “this can’t be happening again” (I had been in the 1976 earthquake in Guatemala, and it felt and sounded just the same. I was in such shock, I didn’t move. The other people in the class yelled at me to get under the table (they were already there). After the shaking stopped, all I could think of was getting to my 5 year-old son across the freeway in Aptos. I was trembling as I passed through Soquel where many of the buildings had lost bricks into the street. Traffic lights were out, but people were courteous. When I reached Ben, I thought I would squeeze the life out of him. I was so grateful he was ok. I remember on the way home a couple of places were selling gallons of water or loaves of bread to passersby. Home was a disaster, but I was so glad to be there and have my son with me. We slept in my pickup truck for many days, afraid to be under mortar. Days of searching for batteries and other necessities, people sharing, a sense of community.

    1. Ranger Gaudinski

      I hope you never experience another big quake. Two big ones seems enough!
      I certainly remember not wanting to sleep inside. My friends and I lived across from Branciforte Middle School and we slept out on the school fields for three nights. We could almost enjoy the aftershocks rolling underneath us because we felt safe out in the middle of a huge field.

  8. Tonya

    Thank you for sharing your own expereince(s) and encouraging others to as well. For those of us that were in Santa Cruz (not San Fran) this was a traumatic life event. I was just 13 years old at the time and lived in Boulder Creek in one of the many ‘not to code’ shanty’s. All of the houses on the road above us were completely leveled. Yesterday I wrote a poem about the quake, please take a moment to read it (especially if you were there).


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