For the 30th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake—the 6.9 tremor struck October 17, 1989 shortly before game three of the World Series between the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants—Curbed SF will feature quake-related coverage looking back at that fateful day, and what you can do to prepare for the next big one.
The Loma Prieta earthquake, a 6.9 temblor that struck the Bay Area on October 17, 1989, at 5:04 p.m., killed 63 people, injured almost 3,800, and caused up to $10 billion in damage.
The earthquake, occurring just before game three of the World Series between the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants, was captured by ABC cameras the moment it hit.
Bricks fell off a facade in SoMa at Sixth and Bluxome streets, killing five people who were leaving work. Apartment buildings in the Marina District toppled onto the streets and crushed cars. Homes and businesses in Santa Cruz buckled.
The Loma Prieta earthquake lasted 15 seconds, but the damage it caused reverberates today.
Cypress Freeway in Oakland
One of the biggest devastations was the collapse of the Cypress Street Viaduct (aka the Cypress Freeway), which ran through West Oakland. The upper tier collapsed onto the lower tier, crushing dozens of cars and killing several dozen people. In fact, 42 of the earthquake’s 63 victims were killed in the viaduct’s collapse.
West Oakland residents immediately responded to the crisis, using their own ladders and ropes to climb up into the rubble and rescue those trapped inside. Some were sandwiched in between slabs of concrete for days. Buck Helm, a “feisty longshoreman,” according to an Associated Press report in 1989, was trapped for four days.
In the year 2005, the demolished viaduct was replaced by a landscaped median, Mandela Parkway, named after South African leader Nelson Mandela. In it stands a public memorial at 14th Street, featuring a statue of twisted metal columns, recalling the collapsed part of the freeway and the ladders that rescuers used trying to rescue survivors.
The San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge
After suffering only four inches of movement during the tremor, a 76-by-50-foot section of the upper deck on the San Francisco–Oakland Bay Bridge’s eastern side fell onto the deck below. Only one person was killed during the structural giveaway, but this time it was due to human error.
Anamafi Moala, 23, was reportedly misdirected by emergency crews to the upper deck of the Bay Bridge, where she drove eastward toward the collapsed section. Unable to see the gap, she plunged over the edge and smashed onto the collapsed edge of the roadway. Moala died at the scene and her brother, a passenger in the car, was seriously injured.
Although the bridge was repaired and used for years following the quake, the eastern span of the Bay Bridge was finally replaced in 2013 by a self-anchored suspension bridge, which cost roughly $6.5 billion to build. Notably, it was designed with technology that allows the bridge’s tower to accommodate six feet of movement and remain standing during a strong earthquake.
“After Loma Prieta, we had to come up with new criteria to build bridges so we could get goods and services into an area that’s significantly damaged,” Caltrans spokesman Bart Ney told KTVU in a September interview. “We did a lot of studies. We invented new technologies so the bridge would move in a large scale earthquake.”
San Francisco’s Marina District
Built on a landfill, the Marina underwent severe liquefaction, meaning the stiffness of its soil was loosened by the shaking of the earthquake, and as a result several of the neighborhood’s apartment buildings collapsed. Numerous firestorms also ignited following the quake, and firefighters had to use water from the bay to battle the blazes.
Residents were told to evacuate from homes deemed unsafe and given 15 minutes to collect whatever belongings they could carry that day. Four people in the Marina died during the quake, and a total of 124 buildings were destroyed or damaged.
The neighborhood rebuilt itself within a decade, but the earthquake forever changed the feel of the Marina.
As Kevin Fagen of the San Francisco Chronicle notes: “Many of the older residents took their insurance money and left, and with them went a lot of the businesses that had given Chestnut Street, the Marina’s main drag, its comfy but faded feel. Homegrown shops were often replaced with chains. Home prices dipped a sliver for a couple of years, then bounced right back.”
San Francisco’s South of Market
Five people died under a hail of bricks when the quake wrenched off the top of a four-story building at Fifth Street and Bluxome. South of Market was one of the areas hardest hit by the earthquake.
The quake also triggered numerous landslides along the coast, including cliffside areas in Fort Funston, Tunitas Creek, Daly City (as seen above, which displaced approximately 36,700 cubic meters of material), and San Gregorio Beach.
The epicenter of the quake was in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The little seaside enclave of Santa Cruz, primarily a college town, saw plenty of damage to its main drag, Pacific Avenue, following the temblor. A total of 20 buildings collapsed and 50 businesses were displaced.
Three decades later, the downtown strip (formerly known as the Pacific Garden Mall), has been replaced. Most of the demolished structures, which had been built from brick, were replaced by wood, steel, and concrete structures, all of which bend and flex during a quake.
“In response to the earthquake, local jurisdictions were required to identify all unreinforced masonry buildings, or buildings not secured with stabilizing material, and create a program to retrofit them, according to the city of Santa Cruz’s Municipal Code,” reports the Santa Cruz Sentinel. “Another section of the code requires all residential remodel or additional permits to dedicate a certain amount of construction cost to improve the building’s resistance to seismic forces, according to John McLucas, deputy building official with the city of Santa Cruz.”