Sunday, October 18, 2009

Twenty Years

It was a balmy Tuesday evening, October 17, 1989. I was 10 years old and in 5th grade. My dad was on his way home from work in San Jose, California. My sister was at her friend's house in Felton. My mom and I, along with my friends Kara and Lisa, were in the car on the way to our house where we would eat a quick dinner before heading back out to Awana. Because we lived out in the country, the mailman wouldn't come all the way out to our house. We stopped to get the mail at the long row of mailboxes on our road. I clearly remember getting the mail, and slowly thumbing through it, hoping for a letter from my pen pal in Wyoming. My mom was in a hurry to get home, and kept trying to get me to give her the mail. I ignored her, and continued piecing through it.

I don't know what caused me to raise my head and look around, but I did. Goosebumps ran down my spine as I noticed the leaves quivering on the tree outside my car window. Then came a deep roar, and a sharp cracking noise as all hell broke loose and the ground began to violently shake. The shaking intensified, and the car began to bounce. My head hit the ceiling of the car several times because I had my seatbelt off to get the mail. I can remember feeling like I was in a disaster movie as the shale cliff just in front and to the right of our car cracked, and came pouring down across the road, a mere 15 feet from our car. Boulders crashed through the fence on the other side of the road, and the road was entirely buried in the landslide.

I didn't know at the time that I had just experienced the Loma Prieta earthquake, a 7.1 earthquake on the San Andreas fault on the central coast of California.

I was too scared to even cry, or talk, or move. It took a while for the dust to clear. My mom was finally able to maneuver the car up and over the rock slide. The rest of the road home up the hill was littered with rocks and debris. An occassional aftershock put me back into panic mode.

On arrival at our house, we were relieved to find it still standing. Our soaking wet cat met us in the driveway. Apparently he had been sleeping under the deck beneath our hot tub when the earthquake hit. Kara, Lisa, and I sat out in the middle of our horse pasture, safely away from power lines and structures, while my mom made a quick dash inside to grab a few things and survey the damage. Among the items she grabbed was my dad's Ham radio. We were all thankful at that time that my dad had taught me the basics of operating the Ham radio, and had set me up with emergency call letters. I turned on the radio and was able to get in contact with my Uncle Dave, a San Jose police officer. He assured me they were all fine over there. He was able to connect with my dad, who was also safe and sound.

As soon as Kara and Lisa's parents came to pick them up, my mom and I got back in the car and went to pick up my sister. We arrived home at the same time as my dad. Daddy had incredible stories of buckled pavement, giant landslides, and boulders the size of cars that he had witnessed on his treacherous commute over the mountain highway, Highway 17. We stood on our front deck and prayed together in the dusk, thanking God for protecting our family.

That night we had a candlelight dinner of lunch meat, cheese, and ice cream. We ate as much as we wanted, because we knew our power would be out for some days. After dinner, my sister and I cuddled together under the kitchen table with our dolls and flashlights while my parents scraped the kitchen floor. The entire kitchen floor was coated in a mix of Karo syrup, worcestershire sauce, and broken glass. At bedtime, I slept under my parents' bed, the only place I was convinced was safe. I slept there every night for the next month.

My sister, Jenny, and I played lots of Monopoly in the days following the quake.

The aftershocks continued for the next several days. We got so we could tell they were coming about 3 seconds before they actually hit. The crickets would stop chirping at that point. Those days following the quake were spent cleaning up messes, checking in with family and friends, and as soon as the power came back on (5 days later), watching news coverage on the tv. To that point we had listened to the news on a battery powered radio, or on the radio in the car.

That awful earthquake had devastating effects on our area.
* The quake killed 63 people
* injured over 3,700 people
* left about 12,000 people homeless
* the upper level of the Bay Bridge collapsed, causing cars to plummet to the lower level
* A two-level viaduct on the 880 freeway in West Oakland collapsed, killing 42 people
I was later to learn that the epicenter was just 5 miles from my home.
I will never forget that day. And I pray I never have to go through an earthquake like that again. That was enough earthquake to last me for a lifetime!


RachelRuelas said...

WOW. Emily. Crazy. I will also never forget that day either. I had turned 4, 6 days prior and I was in Preschool. I don't remember half as much as you do, because I was so young, but I will never forget it. I can't believe it's been 20 years...

Tara said...

What a story and memory! We will occasionally hear of one here in NC but I've never experienced one. We did have an instance last summer when everything started shaking and everybody ran outside their houses. I'm certain it was a small quake but hubby believed it was a military jet or something. Funny thing was we never heard anything....just the shake. My heart almost fluttered out of my chest.

Southern Belle said...

Whoa, that was one intense earthquake! Just one more reason I look forward to living in the earthquakes.

Ross and Taya said...

our pastor's wife from back home lost both of her parents after that quake. they were on the freeway when it collapsed. =(