October 17, 2009

At 5:04 P.M. On October 17, 1989, The Earth Moved

20 years ago today, a 6.9 magnitude earthquake hit the San Francisco Bay Area, taking 63 lives, postponing the World Series featuring the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A's, and putting the entire region into disarray. Over time, the community rebuilt itself, and the entire Bay Area continued to produce world-leading technology in Silicon Valley and training top students at Stanford, UC Berkeley and other area schools, helping to accelerate the digital age we live in now.

Nobody knows when the next big earthquake will happen, but practically everyone believes that we're due. Last year, I wondered aloud how the world might react to an earthquake that hit the Valley, perceived to be full of upper-class egocentric folks, not the more sympathetic low-income victims hit by natural disasters around the world. But there's no doubt that if there were a disaster to hit the Bay Area, again the region would need help.

Everybody in the area has their own story. "Where were you when the earthquake hit?"

At the time of the earthquake, I was only 12 years old, and on my way to soccer practice. I lived in Northern California, but far away from the damage of the quake. An A's fan, I had looked forward to seeing the 3rd game of the World Series, but soccer practice had been on the calendar, so off I went.

On the way to practice, the only bumps and shakes we felt were the result of the coach's rickety van going down the semi-paved roads. We didn't know about the quake, and practice was set to start at 5.

Midway through the practice, as we were scrimmaging, one of the other kid's moms pulled up and said there had been a massive earthquake in San Francisco, saying that anybody who had family or friends in San Francisco could come with her, and she would take them home. The rest of the scrimmage, as we listlessly kicked the ball, our thoughts were somewhere else.

At the end of the practice, we went home and watched the news roll in on the TV, and we learned more over the next hours and days. The Bay Bridge had collapsed. The Marina was on fire. The World Series was being postponed. Everything had stopped. The ensuing days were full of statistics and stories of individual heroism. The community rallied together and rebuilt.

Eventually, the A's came back and won the World Series. They swept. It's the last time they won, so it's been 20 years for that too. And even though it has been twenty years, I always remember the day of the big quake. October 17th, 1989. I remember the time. 5:04 p.m. If you were in the Bay Area, what was your story? What do you remember?