Sunday, November 1, 2009

Fifteen Seconds

The twentieth anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake passed a couple weeks ago. That was the quake that knocked down Watsonville and parts of Santa Cruz, broke part of the Bay Bridge, collapsed a 1.25 mile section of highway, caused a big fire in the Marina district, and postponed the third game of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A's.

I was in Tacoma, at college, hanging around the house with some folks, including a friend of mine who had just arrived by from San Francisco for a visit when I received a call from a guy I was seeing. He had been watching TV, waiting for the game to start, when he (and everyone else) lost the video feed and learned that an earthquake had just hit the Bay Area. He didn't have a phone and had jumped in his car to go to a friend's to let me know.

At the time, a friend of ours had (unofficially) moved in to live with his girlfriend, one of my housemates. While none of us "real" residents of the house had a TV, this fellow had one in storage in the basement and we brought it upstairs and propped it on the coffee table. I remember that it was both small and yellow.

I tried to reach Mom and couldn't get through, so I called my aunt in Massachusetts to see if she had heard from Mom (this was our back-up plan for emergencies). While I was on the phone with Aunt Alice, Mom called and said that she was all right and the house was all right. She had just sat down in a meeting with two people at work when the earthquake struck, and after the they ducked under the doorway or the desk, everyone had gone straight home. No was at college in Southern California and she had already spoken to him.

My friend who had just arrived got in touch with his family, who lived outside SF, a few hours later. In the hours while we watched the news, I kept thinking of more people to wonder about how they were doing. A friend of my mother's lived in the Marina (still does), though I didn't know where exactly she lived so any of those apartment buildings that had just fallen on their faces could have been hers. Eventually I learned that this person wasn't allowed back in her apartment for three days, when the SFFD let her in for fifteen minutes to get some things; she stayed with a friend until her home was cleared by the engineers. Most of one family was at their warehouse south of Market Street; the buildings on both sides lost their front walls, but their building was fine, and at home they lost only one teacup when it fell out of the cupboard.

It was bad enough being glued to the television. I'd heard Mom use that expression when she would describe where she and Dad were when JFK was shot. It was really strange to be so far away when the earthquake happened - particularly for my friend, who had left SF the previous day. We felt like we should have been there, participating.

Are you prepared?

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