Stories of my family...and other stuff

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Loma Prieta 1989

October 17, 1989, 5:04pm

Hollister, California 

            I was twelve years old, and I had never experienced anything like it before.

My first clue that something was amiss was the flickering of the lights in the house; however, I was unaware that something so minor could precede something so major. You see, it was an old house, and we often had problems with the circuit breaker tripping, causing the lights to go out.

It was dinner time, and I was headed downstairs to the living room, dinner in hand, to sit down to an enjoyable half-hour of a re-run of The Facts of Life.  Ya take the good, ya take the bad, ya take ‘em both, and there….  That’s about when the lights began to flicker.  I turned back from heading to the living room, to go fix the circuit breaker, which I assumed was the problem.

I’m pretty sure that having spent her entire life in Hollister, which has two major faults running through it, has given my mom a special sensitivity to what happened next, because, the next thing I know, she was yelling at me to get under the table.  Those first few seconds of wondering what in the world she was yelling about were quickly interrupted by a clear understanding of what, quite literally, in the earth she was yelling about.

I can’t remember exactly how it started, but I remember flying under the dining room table as the floor beneath me shook violently.  My mom stationed herself in the doorway between the kitchen and the hall; my brother, Tim, in the doorway between the dining room and the living room.  It shook.  It shook hard.  I can remember sliding around on the floor, under the table, holding onto its legs.  My mom was yelling, and I was yelling.  I looked at Tim and saw fear.  Crashing noises made the terror worse.  Yes, terror.  I was terrified.  Is the house coming down?! 

The shaking began to slow until finally it was over. 

They say it lasted only ten to fifteen seconds, but does it really matter how long it was?  That fifteen seconds of terror, changed the lives of many, many people.  People lost their homes.  People lost their lives.  People lost their loved ones.

 We were all okay.  The house was pretty much okay.  Some dishes and stuff fell from the cabinets, and a large crack appeared on one of the living room walls.  When my dad got home, we went for a drive through town.  A house we used to live in had jumped ten feet off its foundation.  Some buildings in town had fallen.  Personal injuries in Hollister were limited to bumps, bruises, and broken bones.

The next three weeks we had to deal with eighty-seven aftershocks (fifty-one of which were on the first day after the initial quake), registering greater than 3.0 on the Richter Scale.  Not fun, when our nerves had already been shattered by that initial 6.9 monster.

Twenty years ago yesterday, the Loma Prieta Quake of ’89 was the largest earthquake in California since the ’08 San Francisco quake.  It took place on the San Andreas Fault outside Santa Cruz, California.  By the way, I mentioned two faults running through Hollister, one is the Calaveras Fault, the other…the San Andreas.

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