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Photograph by Chip Scheuer
Weariness Beyond Words: This photograph, by Chip Scheuer, of an exhausted man taking a break from the rescue effort at the Coffee Roasting Company ran in the last issue of The Sun

Earthquake Collage

By Robert Sward

AS ITS NAME IMPLIES, the following is a collage of impressions, recollections, news items, poetry and facts regarding the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and its aftermath. Compiled shortly after the quake, this collage provides a series of images of what it was like to be in Santa Cruz at that time. The people quoted at the start are from Earthshaking, a series of remembrances by poet Robert Sward's Cabrillo College students of their earthquake experience.

An excerpt of the piece appears in Pathways to the Past: Adventures in Santa Cruz County History, History Journal Number 6 (Museum of Art and History, Santa Cruz).

'Eleven miles below the Santa Cruz Mountains the earth erupted with the destructive force of a thermonuclear bomb.'
--San Jose Mercury News

'These pieces of crust, called plates, restlessly roam about, driven by plumes of molten rock that roil up from the planet's superheated core.'
--TIME Oct. 30, 1989

'San Francisco's East Bay Vivarium (America's largest reptile shop) reports 800 escaped animals, including full-grown boa constrictors, pythons, etc., roaming their giant warehouse.'
--San Francisco Chronicle

Rita: I pour a glass of Coke. The microwave goes beep beep beep, telling me my popcorn is done. Dancing to the beat of MTV, I approach the refrigerator when, to my amazement, the house begins to dance along with me. Wow! I think, it's an earthquake and it's getting bigger.

Erin: I've been scuba diving. Surfacing, I see the land move in waves three and four feet high, the sandstone cliff falling onto the beach, a mist or fog of some kind rising. ...

Steve: The gym starts bouncing around like a trampoline. Iron weights begin flying off their racks like popcorn popping. Dumbbells are clinking together like jingle bells, like people smashing wine goblets. Weight machines swaying, mirrors rattling ...

Post Quake
Don: Afterwards, we get together in the back yard with our neighbors and break out a couple bottles of champagne. We eat oysters and caviar and a rack of lamb. During dessert--a delicious apricot and chocolate tart--there's a heavy aftershock. No more good manners. We dive under the table.

The 7.1 temblor wasn't the Big One. In fact, people now refer to it as "The Pretty Big One." The Pretty Big One killed 66 people, caused $7 billion in damages, destroyed downtown Santa Cruz, portions of San Francisco and Watsonville, scores of homes in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and left more than 10,000 people homeless.

Tuesday, Oct. 17, 5:45pm, DAY 1

Sitting now in the stairwell--safest part of the house?--with G., four or five cushions around us, listening to SONY Walkman. No lights, no phone, just the Walkman and the aftershocks. A 5.0 tremor follows the 7.1. Nimitz Freeway collapse, "hundreds killed," says the radio.

Earth in labor ... tremors ... The interval between contractions is diminishing while the contractions themselves increase in force. Or is it me? Call in gynecologist. "Doctor, doctor ..." And what is the earth giving birth to?

Our hearts attack us. The earth attacks.

Wednesday, Oct.18, Day 2

"No sound is dissonant which tells of life." --Coleridge

Garbage men arrive at 6am. Comforting: clashing, cursing, and banging of metal.

10am: We drive to Safeway, but the power's out and the store--its doors opening, closing to admit one or two people at a time--is dark. Hundreds of people lined up waiting to enter ...

Safeway's concern:
(a) How to protect itself against shoplifters;
(b) How to ring up purchases without cash registers.

Wait in line at Ace Hardware for batteries ... reading newspaper and sharing "Where were you?" stories.

Check house for damage, clean up. POWER COMES BACK ON.

5.2 aftershock. A flow, or "outbreak," some people call them, of aftershocks. "Well, better an aftershock than the thing all over again," says my son. The quake and aftershocks give birth to "disaster-bred opportunities," they set off an "avalanche of sales," says the newspaper.

'According to Dave Steeves, chief county building inspector, Santa Cruz County floats on an island surrounded by seven major faults and is the most dangerous quake zone in the U.S.'
--News Item

'The Federal Emergency Management Agency's top medical-disaster coordinator went on vacation, with his supervisor's permission, the day after the earthquake struck California, FEMA officials acknowledged.'

'The departure of Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Brown before the extent of the casualties was known raises fresh questions about the agency's management.'
--News Item

Thursday, Oct. 19, Day 3

Theater director Wilma Marcus says that at the moment the quake hit, a student was being videotaped as she sang these lines from the Carole King song, "I feel the earth move under my feet."

Later, replaying the tape, W. saw the singer's face contort as she was thrown about the room. Young singer clinging to support beam as video camera went dead.

Dinosaur Hatching Weather
The nights are dark and, apart from the occasional aftershock, siren and house shaking, silent. The days are hot. Blue sky and windblown clouds. Businesses and schools closed. People going around in bathing suits and shorts.

Bright, sunny, 90 degree weather ... day after day. Before the Great Earthquake of 1906, there was also a hot spell, says the San Francisco Chronicle ... just like now. Seismologists insist there's no connection.

Indian summer before and after. "Too good to be true weather." But this is California. Whatever the weather, it's earthquake weather.

Outside the Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Company, where Shawn McCormick, 21, and Robin Ortiz, 22, died when a wall fell on them ... Police have strung a yellow and black ribbon, "Scene of Crime--Stay Out." This yellow and black tape, in fact, surrounds the entire downtown area.

An NBC television crew is rumored to be waiting for Vice President Dan Quayle to arrive. The Vice President of Disaster is coming to the scene of a Disaster.

Later, G. and I retrace our steps thinking that Quayle, if he has in fact arrived, will by now have left. But he hasn't even appeared. Next we learn that Gov. George Deukmejian will avoid a mob scene and detour to the demolished Warehouse Liquor Store on Soquel for a photo opportunity. A policeman says the Duke will appear for about 90 seconds, make no comment to anyone, and then leave. Dan Quayle or George Bush may or may not come with the Duke. Quayle, Bush and the Duke apparently want to be seen "seeing" the disaster area so they can be seen later in the day on television seeing the disaster area.

TV: Bush, Leon Panetta and Mayor Mardi Wormhoudt tour the mall looking solid and normal. The buildings, on the other hand, look ghostly. I identify with the buildings.

No, it's not the San Francisco Earthquake and it's not the World Series Earthquake, but the Loma Prieta, in honor of a remote peak near the quake's epicenter.

'The Loma Prieta event occurred on a deeper fault, a dipping fault deep in the root ... of the San Andreas system of faults and it was not the vertical strike-slip faulting that one would have guessed would occur.'
--News Item

It's a Spanish name. Loma Prieta, the Earthquake of the Dark Hill.

'Seismologists continued to argue about how high the quake climbed on the Richter scale. They would finally settle on 7.1. But on Thursday, they agreed on one thing: The quake was one of the five great natural disasters to occur this century in the United States.'
--News Item

Friday, Oct. 20, Day 4

G., seeing that I'm depressed, asks, "What can we do to cheer you up?" "Let's invite some friends over," I say. "How about a professional comedian?" I don't expect G. to do anything but laugh. Instead, she reaches for the phone and calls the only comedian we know. Swami Beyondananda (Steve Baerman) and his wife, Trudy Lite, are in town and accept.

As we sit down to eat I ask Swamiji to pronounce a blessing. "The beat goes on," he begins. "Yes, we're all Shakers, my friends ... Let our only shaking now be from laughter."

Post-Quake bumper stickers:
"I Love Santa Cruz Despite Its Faults"
"Shift Happens"
"Restore Santa Cruz"
"It's All Our Fault"

Sunday, Oct. 22, Day 6

Wake G., and try to get out of bed, but the house is moving too much to go anywhere.

According to today's San Francisco Examiner, there have been over 2,500 aftershocks or tremors since Oct. 17. At times it feels as if Santa Cruz is in a war zone and we are under bombardment.

Monday, Oct. 23, Day 7

'Quake Night Lead for ABC ...
"ABC had excellent ratings for its live quake coverage last Tuesday--the quake, in fact, ranked as the 10th most-watched 'program."'

--News Item

Santa Clara geologist Jim Berland says 'tidal forces on Earth, the timing of geysers and frantic pets are clues to coming earthquakes. He calls it the three GG's method--for gravity gradients, geyser gaps and gone gatos. Gato is Spanish for cat.'
--News Item


Photograph by Robert Sward
Chunks Off the Old Block: Falling masonry was a hazard to pedestrians in the weeks following the quake.

Blackbirds Flying Backwards
Before the shaking begins, cats and dogs run away, and blackbirds fly backward.
--Folkloric tradition

Famous Facts About the Earthquake

  • Length of time shaking was felt: 15 to 40 seconds
  • Length of time shaking reverberated in the Santa Cruz Mountains: up to six minutes
  • Number of aftershocks over 3.0 magnitude: 90
  • Largest aftershock: 5.2 magnitude, 37 minutes after main quake
  • Number of calls to 911 in the first 24 hours after the quake: 1,400
  • Normal daily 911 volume: 260 calls
  • People killed in the quake in Santa Cruz County: 6
  • Chimneys dropped: approximately 5,000
  • Estimate of damage to businesses countywide: $84.9 million
  • Parking meter income lost in downtown Santa Cruz in first month after quake: $125,000
  • Estimate of golf course fees lost by the city in the first month: $200,000
  • Number of Pacific Garden Mall businesses operating in Phoenix Pavilion tents: 33
  • Percentage of roads which required repair: 60 to 80 percent
  • Days Highway 17 was closed to regular traffic: 33
  • Highway 17's normal, average daily vehicle volume: 56,000
  • Highway 17's vehicle volume the week of Nov. 13, while restrictions were imposed: 11,000
  • Dogs and cats reported missing after the quake: Nearly 1,000
  • Pets still missing a month later: 47 dogs, 158 cats
  • Epicenter's coordinates: latitude 37 degrees and 2 minutes north, and longitude 121 degrees and 53 minutes west
  • Today's odds against a major earthquake in the Bay Area: 10,950 to 1

5:04 P.M., The Great Quake of 1989, Greg Beebe, et al. (Santa Cruz: Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1989)

Earthshaking, Cabrillo College English classes, R. Sward (editor), December 1989
Interviews, October, 1989:
San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco Examiner
San Jose Mercury News
Santa Cruz Sentinel
Time Magazine

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