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Remembering the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake

Thirty years ago today, I was living in Boston. Working into the evening, the radio was tuned to Game 3 of the so-called "Bay Bridge World Series", between the Oakland A's and San Francisco Giants.

I grew up in the Bay Area, and have always been an A's fan, but I wasn't paying attention to the pre-game chatter. So when one of my colleagues exclaimed that there was an earthquake, my first thought was that he was joking. There had been some joking about that possibility during the series, and I thought maybe he was just giving me some grief.

But it was real. At 5:04 PM Pacific time, on October 17, 1989, the devastating Loma Prieta earthquake struck. The double-decker Cypress Freeway in west Oakland collapsed, killing dozens of commuters in their cars; the landfill under San Francisco's Marina district liquified, causing fires and houses to crumble; the Bay Bridge was severely damaged; and buildings collapsed throughout the region.

In those first hours, trying to get information was nearly impossible. Phone lines were out of service, power was out, and the TV networks focused their cameras and reports in just a few areas - Candlestick Park, the Marina, West Oakland - with little news from the wider region. I remember watching news anchor Dan Rather unfold a paper map and read off locations, clearly unfamiliar with the area.

I was eventually able to connect with my family briefly by phone. And fortunately no one close to me were injured or lost their homes.

I like to think we are better prepared for a major earthquake today than we were 30 years ago.

Today we are definitely better connected with each other. In 1989 all we had was our telephone land lines (and no one called them "land lines", because there wasn't any alternative). Today people carry a phone in their pocket, they can check in with family and friends from anywhere, and nearly everyone has detailed maps at their fingertips.

When the next big earthquake hits - and it's "when", not "if" - at the least news and information should be rapidly available. And for me that reduces the potential fear and uncertainty at least a little.

More Information

Image: USGS Interactive Map of the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, showing shake intensity. The epicenter, Loma Prieta, is south of San Jose and north of Santa Cruz.


  1. I used to record major news events on my VCR. I should get out the old news reports and watch them again.

    1. That would be interesting. I suspect live news has changed a lot in the past 30 years.

  2. I felt that earthquake in Anaheim, CA.


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