Manic Monday with Mo - Quake

Posted: Monday, April 21, 2008 by Travis Cody in

Welcome to another Manic Monday with Morgen. Don't forget to cruise by MM HQ at It's A Blog Eat Blog World. Today's theme is Quake.

On 17 October 1989, at 1700hrs, I put the leftover mac & cheese in the microwave while listening to Tim McCarver and Al Michaels go through pregame, waiting for Game 3 of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A's.

At 1704hrs, the tv cut out and I heard a large bang followed by a major jolt that nearly knocked me off my feet. Then the ground started to roll. I got my balance and started to move out of the kitchen, which is never a good place to be in an earthquake because of the large appliances and all the glass and cabinetry.

As I started moving toward the dining room, I realized that the ceiling fan was swaying violently and looked like it might come down. I didn't want to go that way. But when I turned around I saw that the cabinet doors were banging open and shut, and I had to duck real quick to keep from getting brained by a potted plant that jumped off the top of the frige.

Just about that time, the ground quit shaking. That initial quake only lasted about 15 seconds, but it seemed like it went on forever. And I was about 90 miles east of the Loma Prieta epicenter. Some articles still list the magnitude at 7.1, which was the first report I heard. Officially, the quake measured 6.9.

The tv reception came back on at some point. Like many others, that's when I began to understand the scope of the quake. I knew it was a hard shake, but as they started to show pictures of Bay Area landmarks I knew so well, I realized that my family was there. And I had to resist the powerful urge to get on the phone. It was so hard, but I knew they would call soon enough.

So my first call was not to my was to my boss. I was a courier in 1989, driving bank materials from the valley to San Francisco. What was I supposed to do that night, when my route was directly impacted by the quake?

Do you recall the images of the I-880 Nimitz freeway, more popularly known as the Cypress Structure? How about the Bay Bridge? Well friends, that was my route and I was due to drive it between midnight and 0100. Just seven hours away.

I didn't go that Tuesday night, or Wednesday. It wasn't until Thursday that I heard from family...everyone was fine, though shaken quite a bit. We were lucky that there was only minor property damage for my family, who lived in South San Francisco. So many others weren't that lucky.

That Thursday night, I made my valley rounds and headed toward the Bay Area. I had to take the San Mateo bridge, which turned into 7 miles of tension. I could see the construction lights across the water to the northeast, where I knew a slab of the Bay Bridge was down. But that was about the only light there was, as almost the entire southern penninsula was dark. Power hadn't been restored in all areas yet.

From San Jose to San Francisco, there were small pockets of light surrounded by darkness. Few lights at the airport, no lights at any of the ballparks or soccer fields, no street lights.

No beautiful San Francisco skyline.

Driving in the blacked out downtown was unnerving. I knew where I was going...I'd driven the route for over a year. Besides that, I'm basically from the Bay Area and I spent a lot of time downtown and on the wharf. But I nearly got lost that Thursday night. The darkness pressed in. And in the back of my mind, there was that nagging thought that another quake could hit. Or a large aftershock.

What else might collapse?

I love The City, but I was never so happy to get out and back across the San Mateo bridge, and then through the Altamont pass to more stable ground.

About a week later, we found that plate of mac & cheese still in the microwave.

A month or so later, I was able to drive back through Oakland and re-route around the collapsed Cypress Structure to cross the repaired Bay Bridge...and see that beautiful skyline, lit up once again.

They say location and timing are everything. And it's true. The freeway and bridge collapses all around the Bay Area could have claimed so many more lives. But the Giants and A's were in the World Series, and there weren't so many commuters out on the roads. Just 67 people were killed, a sad number but much fewer than it could have been.

And I got lucky with timing.


  1. A scary time. We had an earthquake in the UK a few weeks ago. I felt the ground shake, but as I recall only one person was injured in the whole country.
    Simply not on the same scale, but a reminder over here of how lucky we are.

  1. Jamie says:

    Loma Prieta was a scary quake mainly because of the destruction and deaths. We were in Fresno so only got a mild jolt, but it took years to repair some of the damage around the bay.

  1. Leigh says:

    I distictly recall that night. It was my brother's birthday. He was watching the ballgame and we were waiting for it to end so we could then go and eat (Japanese, Ichiban). I recall the people at the game, the looks on faces and most notably the announcers.
    I am glad that you and your family were lucky enough. I cannot imagine the fear that you felt afterwards driving over that bridge. I could not have done it. Blessings.

  1. i remember this too. so scary!

    smiles, bee

  1. Wow. I enjoyed reading your report of being near ground zero. Glad you got through it OK. Glad it wasn't me.

  1. wow, I was watching the game on TV, some things you will always remember.

  1. the teach says:

    Travis, you tell the story so personally and sensitively. Excellent job! :)

  1. Bond says:

    Travis, I so remember that night...from 3,000 miles away and just so concerned for all of you out there...

    Thanks for sharing your recollections

  1. You and I went to the same place on this word Travis. If you lived anywhere near the bay area in 1989 I would bet the word quake would make them think of this horrific earthquake. I'm glad you weren't in the city when this happened Travis. I didn't go back to the city for a very long time. Have a great MM. :)

  1. Akelamalu says:

    That's really scary Trav. We had a quake here a while back but I slept through the whole thing! Either I sleep like the dead or the quake was teeny!

  1. Love San Fran. Hopefully I will get to visit this summer. Lovely photo of the *lighted* skyline. I remember that quake. I had family there at that time too.

  1. Turnbaby says:

    I recall that night--watching from the realtive safety of Kentucky an shivering from the news reports of that collapsed highway.

    Last Friday when that hotel started moving I immediately knew what it was and kept thinking--is it gonna stop?

    and Oh My about the mac n cheese

  1. Ivanhoe says:

    I have never experienced a quake. And I don't want to. I am safely tucked away in Ohio. Was the World Series ever played at later time?

  1. jennifer says:

    I was an 18 year old freshman in college and I remember how this story terrified me. We went to Ruby Falls TN (a cave) not long after that happened and rode in an elevator DEEP into the ground. I had the WORST case of clostraphobia thinking about that earth quake. What if?

    I am so thankful that you and your family were not hurt. And it made a memory....

    Be blessed Travis.


  1. Travis says:

    Anthony: And I think a reminder that anywhere there is ground, it can shake.

    Jamie: Often when this quake is discussed, the lead is the Bridge, the Nimitz, and the Marina District. But so many other areas outside of these known landmarks were devastated as well.

    Leigh: Californians can sometimes seem blase about earthquakes, but we certainly are prepared for how serious they can be.

    Bee: I think the Northridge quake in 1994 bothered even me more because my family was more significantly involved in that injuries, but some very real property damage. And I was further away from them at the time.

    Charles: I've felt a lot of ground shaking and that was by far the most significant.

    Sarge: That's a fact.

    Teach: Thanks.

    V: It can be a helpless feeling, waiting for it to stop shaking, and then even after not really being able to do anything.

    Sandee: That first night back was the toughest. After that, my love of The City overcame any residual fear.

    Akelamalu: I've read that some people can also be more sensitive to them than others.

    Starr: If money were no object, I would have a penthouse apartment in The City and stay there for the entire month of October. If you go, wait until then because there is no other time of the year when the weather is better.

    Turn: The discovery of the week old mac & cheese was a moment of hilarity. It was one of those times when you start laughing at something that really isn't that funny, but you can't stop.

    Ivanhoe: The games resumed 10 days later. The A's had been ahead in the series 2 games to 0, and won the final two games for a sweep of the Giants. The A's were crowned champions of baseball on Oct 28.

    Jennifer: It's a lasting memory because the area is so familiar to me.

  1. Kimmie says:

    Captivating story Travis. I would have been terrified. I am happy that you and your family were safe. We live on a major fault here in New York...we have only had a few very small tremors over the years that I know of. I hope it never gets any worse than that. One never knows what will happen, it is all a mystery.
    Thanks for sharing such a personal story with us.

  1. Yikes! So scary. :(

    Glad you made it out okay.

  1. Travis says:

    Kimmie: One of the only things that captured my attention in science class was the study of plate tectonics.

    CWM: They can be.

  1. Jeni says:

    Earthquakes! One of the things about California that always scared the heck out of me and made me think I never wanted to live there. The midwest has the tornados; the southeastern states have hurricanes and I don't like the thought of any of those things either. I think I'll just stay in good old Pennsylvania. (Although we did have a tornado go through very near to where I live back in May of 1985, the night of my older daughter's high school graduation! Probably Mother Nature showing how stunned she was that my daughter made it through school! Don't tell my daughter I said that though.)

  1. Mo says:

    That's an amazing story - I didn't realize you were so involved in the city during that time!
    You saying you found the plate of mac & cheese in the microwave a week later just made the story complete!

  1. Julie says:

    Okay two questions my dear:

    1. Why did you resist calling your folks?

    2. How could you go a week without using your microwave?

    Very interesting story...and oh how vivid for so long ago. Thanks for sharing Travis.

  1. Travis says:

    Jeni: Just remember, you're not that far away from a major fault system in the northeast!

    Mo: Yeah, I lived in northern California for more than half my life.

    Julie: 1. I didn't call family because I knew the circuits would be jammed with people trying to call loved ones. I didn't want to contribute to it and I knew they would call as soon as they could. 2. Sammiches, pizza, and Chinese take out!

  1. Meribah says:

    I've never experienced an earthquake before, being from an area that tends to be earthquake free, and I hope I never do. It sounds frightening. I'm glad you and yours made it through all right!

  1. Dottie says:

    Wow, I can totally understand the unnerving feeling crossing that bridge. I probably wouldn't have done it.. I do remember hearing about this quake...I'm glad your family made out okay. How scary.

  1. This is a pretty incredible story, Travis. I sure am glad no one in your family was hurt. Yes, it was sad that nearly 70 people died, and yes, it could have been so much worse.

    Thanks for sharing your personal story, Travis.

  1. Whoof!! A big lick up the right side of yur face, Travis.

  1. That'd FREAK me OUT! I had a friend that lived in the area around that time, too. No freaking THANKS is all I've got to say. I like my ground firm & unmoving! *LOL @ your mac & cheese, btw!*

  1. Travis says:

    Meri: They can be scary, but I think sometimes the aftermath can be worse.

    Dottie: Before the quake I had always enjoyed driving across the San Mateo bridge.

    Alice: It was quite the experience.

    Reba: Dog gloms!

    Lana: We had a nice laugh about the mac & cheese too!

  1. Dana says:

    That's scary! I'm so glad you're okay though - we never would have met!