1989 San Francisco Earthquake – My Experience

1989 SAN FRANCISCO EARTHQUAKE

The following is a guest post by my friend Bill who had first-hand experience with the devastating 1989 San Francisco earthquake.

Cypress Freeway Collapse

Cypress Freeway collapsed. I was on the bottom deck minutes before it fell.

My name is Bill, I’m now 70 years old and very thankful to have made it this far. Events in my life have left me, at times, feeling like I live on borrowed time. My kids talk once in a while about my travels taking me into harm’s way. Growing up and living on the west coast all my life have let me experience numerous quakes, tornados and real bad weather.

The worst was the 1989 San Francisco quake. To give you the real picture I need to start a few days prior to the “big one”. I drive a large semi-truck with a 48 foot refrigerated trailer. Not the easiest thing to move around the Bay Area with.

Two days before the event I was in the south bay in San Jose. Guys working on the loading dock mentioned how they had experienced several small quakes over the last two days. They advised me to stay off the bridges and overpasses and they gave me a couple of bottles of water just in case.  I didn’t think too much about at that moment.

My Truck

My Truck

Loading complete I headed north to Sacramento for a delivery the next day. This route was north up I-880 through Oakland. Traffic was heavy and a usual slow time of the day. About 3:45 there was an earthquake that shook my truck enough that I had to take sharp action to stay in my lane.

I thought of the water given me and how little else I had to sustain me if this got worse. Continuing on I entered the lower deck of the Cypress Viaduct, a double deck freeway. I drove out of that section and it collapsed about 25 feet right behind me. The shaking of the freeway and my truck was tremendous. Coming to a stop I got out and ran down the overpass I was on but the shaking stopped after a several seconds.

My trailer was loaded with lettuce. A football size piece of concrete went through the back doors then through 22 pallets of lettuce and put a dent from the inside out in the front of the trailer. It also blew out 11 of my 18 tires, tore the right side mirror assembly off and various other damage to the underside of the truck. No one could go anywhere for a couple of hours so I spent the time talking with others.

Cypress Collapse

This is both decks. Several dead in here.

A man below the bridge got my attention and asked if he could help us. I told him I was in need of a tow truck due to losing so many tires. He said he would be up to me shortly. An hour later here he came up the bridge in a commercial tire truck. He proceeded to mount up 11 used tires on my truck and allow me to continue to safety.

He absolutely would not accept any pay for his services or the tires. In return I went back to his tire shop and paid him to install 12 brand new tires on my truck and trailer. People really do care especially in an emergency. I bought tires from for 8 years after that, we became great friends. . I did get home early in the morning and my family was relieved. Cell service was out and they had no word on me. It was great to be home!

Cypress Collapse

Crews attempting rescue

Looking back, I thought to myself what if I was there for all night or more. I had gathered what I had to drink and eat which was very little. No real emergency supplies whatsoever. Something I promised myself would not happen again.

Before I left the next day for delivery I bought items and put together a preparedness pack for future use. Never went anywhere without checking it first. My wife took my lead and created a pack for our home. Today you can purchase a much better Earthquake Kit for your family, cars and office. Don’t make the same mistake I did. Get prepared! This can happen to you.

 

Special thanks to Bill for sharing his incredible story and showing that there is still faith in humanity as people do help each other in times of crisis.

Luckily Bill got out without being trapped or harmed but had he been stuck overnight without an earthquake kit he would have been in trouble. Make sure you are prepared both in your home and even in the car as this shows that an earthquake can strike at anytime no matter where you are.

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9 Comments

  1. Roger

    Andy and Bill,

    Great story!

    I, too, was in San Francisco and experienced the earthquake of 1989. I was home, getting ready to host a “Subway Series” of the World Series Games between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s. I had the TV on, and saw players all suddenly stare in one direction, and then the power went out.

    I tried to make a phone call (this was before cell phones), but got no dial tone. I thought the phones were dead, but the fact is so many people were on the phones that there were no available dial tones. If you left the phone off the hook long enough, eventually you would get a line.

    My old college friend joined me at my apartment. Her husband was stuck in Berkely, and my wife was stuck in Oakland, due to the collapses of the highway and bridge. We had burritos (I had a gas stove and had not shut the gas off, and plenty of food in the fridge and freezer) and eventually both our spouses were able to join us, taking much longer routes home.

    I was a standup comic then, and my final weekend of paid gigs was Thursday though Sunday of that very week. Naturally, I had a lot of earthquake jokes!

    Though the quake was devastating in a few areas (which were constantly televised over and over, giving others the impression the entire city had collapsed and was ablaze, when these were tragic, but isolated, incidents), but most of the damage was not immediately dangerous.

    I remember, as Bill stated, how kind and helpful people were during the aftermath. The stop lights didn’t work, and so drivers politely took turns going through the light, alternating car by car.

    People were more outgoing and friendly. Everyone wanted to hear and share stories about where they were during the quake, and what they experienced. It was a very friendly and lovely time!

    But as Bill and you both point out, it’s alway best to be prepared so that should you be caught in one of these quakes, you are able to thrive and survive to share your tale with others!

    Roger

    Reply
    1. Andy (Post author)

      Yeah from what I remember they only showed the worst hit areas on the news which were actually pretty devastating. Especially with the bridge and freeway collapse a lot of people lost their lives. Luckily you were at home and there wasn’t much damage at your place but had there been, it would have been a much scarier situation. It’s always a good idea to at least know what to do in an earthquake and have an earthquake kit prepared just in case. If you were at the wrong place at the wrong time it definitely would have been another story.

      Reply
  2. Mohammad Makki

    What a great idea this guest post is! It fits the site perfectly.

    This was a pretty unnerving read. Scary to think what would have happened to Bill if circumstances were just a little different. It’s accounts like this that make awareness so important. A quake could strike at anytime, and people like Bill would be the most vulnerable, without a doubt.

    Reply
    1. Andy (Post author)

      Yeah, it’s first-person accounts that make everything so “real”. Because most of us haven’t experienced major earthquakes before, it’s stories like these that really wake you up because “it could have been you”. Being prepared no matter where you are is very important. A lot of people lost their lives that day and I could imagine the suffering.

      Reply
  3. Cheryl Nay

    Preparedness is a much needed thing in today’s world. I was glad to read that Bill always has an emergency kit with him now. I’m into being prepared also and I think it can’t be talked about enough. Great site, great information.

    Reply
  4. Subra Sivananthan

    Good to read a narration based on personal experience. The guest post not only justifies the pitch of other content on the site, it adds considerable weight to your message.

    ‘Be prepared’ is something I have learned with regard some medical issues which sometimes require me to consult doctors at nearest hospital in a timely manner. I am sure other readers of this guest post will sense the importance of your message and the kits you promote.

    I am fortunate to live in Malaysia that is not on any recognized major earthquake prone zone. But we do sometimes sense tremors when earthquakes occur in neighboring Indonesia. So I do not think I need a Kit.

    Reply
    1. Andy (Post author)

      Yeah maybe your area is not prone but there was actually a magnitude 5.9 earthquake late last year near Kota Kinabalu that killed 18 people. Plus there are other disasters to prepare for like floods. Most of the kit contents are useful for all disasters so it’s a good idea to be prepared just in case.

      Reply
  5. Matt

    Wow how devastating! The destructive power of mother nature is absolutely terrifying. I am lucky I was not around when that happened I can only imagine the damage caused by such an event. But I guess it takes a tragic event like this to make you realize that you do indeed need an emergency kit with you at all times!

    Reply
    1. Andy (Post author)

      Yeah that’s the sad part. Most people won’t actually take action until AFTER a destructive disaster occurs. By then it’s sometimes too late.
      That’s why I’m trying to spread the word on preparedness so people will take action NOW before something happens.

      Reply

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