October 17, 1989
At the time I thought it was the best chance for the Giants to take a game in the World Series.
The first two starting pitchers for the Athletics had dominated their games but the game 3 match-up at Candlestick Park held promise for Giants fans. I had just finished work and was settling in for the game when our dog gave the signal she wanted to go outside. When I came back inside to the television, the teams had run out onto the field but they were not lined up to be introduced, something different was going on.
I had missed what was later determined to be a magnitude 7.1 earthquake. (One person who didn’t miss it was atop a light standard at the stadium who hung on as the pole made sickening lurches from over the stadium to over the parking lot. He then had to climb down as aftershocks rattled the area.)
Soon the phone rang and I was called into the office. This was a big story and the quake had knocked out our connection to Associated Press wire photos. Twenty years ago the then Telegram-Tribune relied on a balky blue printer that would spit out a grey and white print about every 3 minutes. It relied on telephone era technology and when it crashed we had to call a technician from Bakersfield and the editors knew our feed would be low on the priority chain with service knocked out all over northern California.
Based on what we could glean from early reports from the television sports reporters at the stadium we could tell it was a major event with fires burning in the Marina District and that the newspaper paper would need images for the next day.
We knew that the epicenter of the quake was south of San Francisco but at that point did not have clear idea of how widespread the damage was. Today a quick check of an automated website will give a very good estimate of the size and location, twenty years ago the seismologist had to go to the office and evaluate the data.
It was agreed that reporter David Wilcox and I would drive to Hollister, record what we could and return with the film and story. The town was located on the San Andreas Fault and we thought at the time it would offer the best chance to turn around a story for the next afternoon’s edition about 12 hours from beginning production.
The San Andreas only accounts for roughly half the movement between the Pacific and North American plates. Unknown to us at the time the quake’s epicenter was near Loma Prieta peak in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Stories like this are jig saw puzzles without having the picture on the box to match.
Today I would have a cell phone, digital cameras and a laptop, then it was several pockets of film and manual focus and manual exposure cameras.
We got in my Toyota pickup and drove north.
Somewhere near King City we noticed a wrong way driver driving northbound to the left of us in the southbound lanes. About ten minutes later a CHP flew by us chasing. We never saw them again.
The power went out by the time we reached Salinas and on to San Juan Bautista and Hollister.
We arrived in Hollister and found some residents camping out in tents, preferring to be outside for the aftershocks. By talking to everyone, stopping by fire stations and cruising the town we found the most dramatic local examples of damage. We checked in at the county emergency operations center to get an overview of the local situation.
The town was fortunate, remarkably no one was killed there. In other towns a there would be a total of 63 fatalities. The two story brick front of the Oddfellows Hall fell crushing four cars. The image was under moonlight by setting up a tripod and walking around the building setting off a flash unit several times. The building looked like a doll house, one wall removed, pictures and light fixtures intact on three sides, cupboards open and spilling, remnants of the brick facade hang in the air.
Other scenes included an old house with newer additions that split in three directions as its three foundations broke in different ways. A tomato cannery where stacks of pallets collapsed dumping thousands of cans and burying a truck.
The AP photo receiver lurched back to life shortly before we returned to San Luis Obispo in the morning. Our all-nighter of work went on the inside pages as more dramatic images and stories from Oakland and San Francisco filled the front page. Freeways had collapsed, the Bay Bridge broke, homes built on loose fill were propped up with beams and boards.
Our then sister paper in Watsonville, the Register-Pajaronian was damaged so severely that they could not print. Santa Cruz was hard hit as well. They brought their information to T-T offices in San Luis Obispo where an 8 page earthquake edition was printed and then airlifted by Kent Blankenberg with the Five-Cities Times-Press Recorder back to Watsonville. Newspapers pull together in a crisis to keep information flowing.
The World Series was postponed for a week and the Giants quickly lost the last two games, facing the top two starters twice. Fatalites were high but would have been higher if the freeways had been full at what was normally rush hour. Many people were inside watching what was billed as the Bay Bridge series. Rabid baseball fans claim they could not live without the game, but in this case even casual fans who got home early to watch the game may have saved their lives from collapsing freeways.
I did not know at the time that the scene, sadly would be repeated 14 years later in Paso Robles in the wake of the San Simeon Earthquake. Even with the dramatic examples from Loma Preita and later the Northridge and Whittier Narrows quakes few buildings in San Luis Obispo County were earthquake retrofitted. The consequences would be fatal. None of the four quakes mentioned located on the San Andreas Fault. Another victim of Loma Preita was Riley’s Department Store. Recently sold to Santa Cruz based Charles Ford Co. the combined company could not weather the upheaval and went bankrupt.