Posted by: Andi Angel | October 17, 2009

The Loma Prieta Quake: Twenty Years Later

On this very day twenty years ago, I lived in Hayward, CA, in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was around 3 o’clock, and I had just shut my bedroom door and was about to sit at my desk to do 4th grade homework.

I hate homework, and always have. I’ve used a lot of creative methods to avoid doing it, but you can’t craft any better excuse than the true ones that fall in your lap.

An odd rumbling started in the distance, and suddenly the whole world began to rock. Popular quake preparation advice always said to get under a desk or in a doorway. The knee space under my desk was small and enclosed on three sides – no way was I going to scrunch under there and risk getting trapped if the roof caved in.

I ran to my door, yanked it open, and ran across the hall into the bathroom doorway. It just seemed more secure, based on the different way the walls met around that doorway. I huddled in the doorway with Galen, a boy from my next-younger sister’s kindergarten class, who my mom watched sometimes after school.

Where was the rest of my family? Erin, the kindergartener, was in the living room on the couch in front of the big picture window. She thought a big semi was going by. My mom was nearby with the youngest sister, trying to coax Erin away from the window in case it shattered. My dad had just parked outside in our carport, and thought Erin and I had climbed up to jump in the bed of his truck.

Scary, but how lucky we were… a couple of cracks appeared in our walls. A few items fell from shelves and broke. One was my African giraffe wood-carving, which my grandma had brought back from a trip to Kenya. It dove off my desk hutch and came up with only one ear still attached. It wasn’t sentimental to me, and I don’t remember anything else that was damaged. If not for the fear of personal injury, the quake and its smaller, shorter aftershocks would have actually been a fun ride.

It makes me sad to think about commuters that day who were taken for a not-so-fun ride. The top deck of a section of the Bay Bridge collapsed. Two double-decker freeway overpasses (the Embarcadero in SF, and the Cypress Viaduct in Oakland) collapsed. More than 100 people were killed in seconds, and over 3,000 injured, making it the 3rd most lethal quake in United States history.

There’s nothing like the solemnity of death to make you reflect on what life is for. Whether your damage on that day was major or minor, no one who lived through the Loma Prieta quake will ever forget it.


Note: Some of this page is really hard to read, with grammer and syntax errors left and right, but the pictures and story are really good. I’ve e-mailed the creator, offering to polish up the page for free – we’ll see if I get a response.



  1. Your cousin Stephanie was also in the house, asleep on the family room couch. I would push the big heavy coffee table up next to it so she wouldn’t roll off on the floor. The quake apparently bounced her on top of the table ’cause that’s where I found her!

    I remember Erin being in front of the big window in the living room – reading? Seems like there was someone sitting there with her – but who???? Could it have been Heather??? Or was it Galen? I really don’t remember him being there that day. Erin didn’t even notice! Dad had just pulled into the carport (it was shortly after 5:00 p.m.) and thought one or more of you kids was in the bed of his truck, jumping up and down – making the truck bounce.

    Our power went out, so we all went over to Aunt Celeste’s – and waited and waited for Uncle Steve to make his way home. I remember hearing of the bridge “collapse” and thinking hundreds, if not thousands, of cars must have gone into the Bay. And I remember the Cypress Structure (raised portion of I-880) collapsed. It was a miracle more people weren’t killed or hurt.

    Several of my glass unicorns lost their horns but otherwise we were literally unscathed where we were. Thank goodness the quake was on the San Andreas and not on the Hayward Fault or we’d probably be telling a different tale.

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