See the aftermath of the huge San Francisco Bay Area Loma Prieta earthquake on October 17, 1989

SF Loma Prieta Marina District

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These are some of the very first reports of the Loma Prieta quake back on October 17, 1989 that devastated so much of the San Francisco Bay Area.

As they were so immediate, they and contain some information later proven to be incorrect. For instance, death estimates were — fortunately — overstated. The final tally: 63 people were killed and another 3,757 injured.

Pancaked Upper Deck of Cypress viaduct
Pancaked Upper Deck of Cypress viaduct

Loma Prieta earthquake: Oakland Freeway Collapses, Bay Bridge Section Fails

By Randy Shuts and Susan Sward, Chronicle Staff Writers

A terrifying earthquake ripped through Northern California late yesterday afternoon, killing more than 200 people, injuring hundreds more, setting buildings ablaze and destroying sections of the Bay Bridge.

The quake was the strongest since the devastation of the great 1906 shock, measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale and shaking the state from Lake Tahoe to Los Angeles. The temblor erupted from the treacherous San Andreas Fault and was centered in sparsely populated mountains 10 miles north of Santa Cruz.

Late last night, Lieutenant Governor Leo McCarthy estimated damage at “well over $1 billion” and predicted, “It will climb much higher in the light of day.”

Loma Prieta earthquake - San Francisco Chronicle 1989 (12)

Loma Prieta earthquake - San Francisco Chronicle 1989 (11)
This three-story apartment house at Beach and Divisidero streets lay broken in the roadway as the big Marina District fire burned in the background

McCarthy said he had talked with White House Chief of Staff John Sununu who had activated 20 federal agencies to provide emergency relief.

The earthquake struck just as hundreds of thousands of people were leaving work for the afternoon commute, jamming freeways, filling mass transit systems and crowding city streets throughout the Bay Area.

Meanwhile, the eyes of the nation were already riveted on San Francisco, where the third game in the World Series was just 30 minutes away from the first pitch at Candlestick Park. The game was abruptly canceled.

The heaviest fatalities came about two miles south of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge when the upper deck of a mile long section of two-tiered Interstate 880 collapsed onto the lower deck.

Oakland San Francisco Bay Bridge after Loma Prieta earthake October 1989

An estimated 200 people were crushed to death amid the cascade of tumbling concrete and automobiles from the upper deck, according to the state Office of Emergency Services.

“But,” added Alameda County Sheriff Charles Plummer, “we have an awful lot of concrete to be picked up.”

Loma Prieta earthquake - San Francisco Chronicle 1989 (9)

MORE: 1906 San Francisco earthquake: Rare pictures & first reports made while the fires were still burning the city

Loma Prieta earthquake first reports: About Today’s Chronicle

This special edition of The Chronicle was produced despite a complete power outage at the newspaper’s headquarters at 5th and Mission streets. The earthquake brought the newspaper’s computer and main printing facility to a halt.

The papers were printed at the Chronicle’s Army Street printing plant and at its East Bay facility in Union City. The news accounts were placed on Macintosh computer disks using an emergency generator.

“The Chronicle of October 18, 1989 is a newspaper produced with a heavy heart,” said Executive Editor William German. “The fact that it was produced at all was a mighty feat. This awful blow wiped out the tools of modern journalism. No magic of computers, no push-button presses, not even lights to see by.

“All that was left to us was the energy and the wit of our dedicated staff,” he said.

Smoldering remains of the apartment complex at the corner of Beach and Divisadero Streets, the Marina District
Smoldering remains of the apartment complex at the corner of Beach and Divisadero Streets, the Marina District
Loma Prieta earthquake damage - Beach Street apartment complex in danger of collapse, Marina District
Loma Prieta earthquake damage – Beach Street apartment complex in danger of collapse, Marina District

SF Loma Prieta Marina District

$1 Billion Damage Estimate – Major Retailers Forced to Close

By John Eckhottse and Kenneth Howe

Yesterday’s earthquake immediately shut down the San Francisco business community, and the impact on the local economy will continue to be felt for months. Damage could top $1 billion in property losses. With major arteries into San Francisco closed for an indefinite period, economic losses could climb even higher.

By way of comparison, the San Fernando earthquake of 1971 resulted in $553 million worth of property damage, according to the Western Insurance Information Service. That quake registered 6.1 on the Richter scale.

DON’T MISS: Old San Francisco, just before the 1906 earthquake: See vintage film footage from weeks before the disaster

Tom Brokaw Prepares Script Credit J.K. Nakata, U.S. Geological Survey
Tom Brokaw Prepares Script Credit J.K. Nakata, U.S. Geological Survey

Crushed Car

H.G. Wilshire, USGS Collapsed sections of Cypress viaduct, Highway 880

Flying glass and lack of power forced major retailers such as Macy’s and the Emporium to shut and lock their doors after evacuating shoppers and employees. One salesclerk at Macy’s said a whole wall of televisions fell to the floor and broke in the fifth-floor electronics department.

Bars remained open, but most restaurants closed with no way to cook food. I Magnin’s was one of the hardest-hit stores downtown, as 73 of the windows at its Union Square store shattered, littering Stockton and Geary streets with glass.

Business tenants in major downtown office buildings reported major damage to the outside facades.

Loma Prieta earthquake on the cover of England’s Daily Express newspaper

Loma Prieta earthquake - England - British newspaper 1989

Loma Prieta earthquake - San Francisco Chronicle 1989 (1)

Loma Prieta earthquake - San Francisco Chronicle 1989 (8)

Loma Prieta SF Divisidero Collapse Credit C.E. Meyer, USGS

The Experts’ Advice on How to Cope

By Edward Epstein, Chronicle Staff Writer

As a stunned Bay Area comes back to life today, millions of residents will start trying to cope with the aftermath of the area’s worst earthquake since 1906. The advice from government and corporate leaders is that non-essential workers should stay home today from their jobs in the city.

A spokesman for the State Office of Emergency Services said, “If you don’t have to be here stay away.” Bill Newbrough added that roads and bridges into the city are expected to be clogged with as many as 300,000 East Bay residents coming to work in the city and unable to use the damaged Bay Bridge and Interstate 880.

San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos also said people should not go to work unless they absolutely must.

DON’T MISS: San Francisco’s Victorian marvel: The huge swimming pools at Sutro Baths

Loma Prieta earthquake - San Francisco Chronicle 1989 (10)

Demolition of Cypress Structure
Demolition of Cypress Structure

Destroyed Causeway

House destroyed by failure of downslope support piers


House Moved Off Foundation J.K. Nakata, U.S. Geological Survey

Bedroom showing effects of the earthquake J.K. Nakata, U.S. Geological Survey

MORE: Take a look back at old downtown San Francisco in the ’70s

Failure of Unreinforced Brick J.K. Nakata, U.S. Geological Survey

Bicycles Crushed by Brick C.E. Meyer, U.S. Geological Survey

Searching for victims - C.E. Meyer, U.S. Geological Survey

Unsafe to Occupy Signs Loma Prieta Earthquake 1989


Rescue efforts, Pacific Garden Mall

Unfastened Bookcases

Cypress Viaduct

Liquefaction in Subsurface Layer of Sand

Loma Prieta earthquake buildings collapsed


From The Lorna Prieta, California, Earthquake of October 17, 1989-Fire, Police, Transportation, and Hazardous Materials – CRAIG VAN ANNE and CHARLES SCAWTHORN, Editors

When the earthquake struck at 504 p.m., (1704 hr) Tuesday evening, most of Oakland was fairly quiet.

MORE: A 1950s home tour: See inside a small house in San Francisco

All of the Oakland Fire Department’s companies were in service at quarters, except Engine 13 which was answering an Emergency Medical Services (EMS) call. This unusual (for this time period) lack of activity was probably due to the start of the third game of the World Series.

All 23 of Oakland’s Fire Stations experienced violent shaking and ground movement. None of the stations sustained major damage. But most stations experienced partial or total power outages, Along with loss of power, many stations also lost telephone and telecommunications service.

Surface Rupture Across Highway

Failure of Joist Columns Interface

A fracture cuts the roadbed, curbs, and railings on the collapsed section of Highway 1 at Struve Slough

The interruption of power and communication to the fire stations hampered and delayed initial earthquake response efforts. Owing to. the loss of electrical power, many companies had to manually operate station overhead doors in order to move apparatus out of the stations. This added three to five minutes to normal response times.

The Fire Dispatch Center (FDC) located at Station 1, the Department’s headquarters station, also experienced violent shaking. The dispatch tape log recorded the sound of the earthquake and the nervous reaction of the emergency dispatchers working the dispatch consoles. Fortunately, the dispatch computer and radio equipment remained in operation.

Assistant Chief John Baker, the Shift Commander, was in the FDC at the time of the earthquake. As the ranking Fire Department Officer on duty, he immediately established a Headquarters Command post at FDC.

The FDC was staffed by two dispatchers and one dispatch supervisor. FDC, normally staffed by nonuniform dispatchers, is headed by a Fire Captain. Chief Baker was the only officer in FDC in the first moments after the earthquake. Immediately after the quake, Chief Baker began monitoring the status of calls and dispatches, in order to make strategic decisions concerning unit assignment, recall, and mutual aid.

ALSO SEE: If you love San Francisco, don’t miss this ’50s video blast from the past

Video: FULL EPISODE: Loma Prieta Earthquake, 30 Years Later

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