If you live in the Bay Area, it’s hard to not be aware of the fact that tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake. It was the biggest earthquake in the Bay Area since the “big one” of 1906, and at the time, was the nation’s most expensive natural disaster (now grossly surpassed by Katrina).
I didn’t yet live here in ’89, but I was not far away, living in another earthquake-prone region, Southern California. I remember watching the images on tv… the fires raging through the marina, the collapsed upper deck panel of the Bay Bridge and the car that careened off where its support had once been, and of course, the images of the collapsed Cypress Freeway, built before the 1950’s and the use of modern seismic safety standards. This is where the highest number of fatalities occurred… 42 people on the lower deck were literally crushed to death.
The freeway was rebuilt years later in a different location, further west to provide access to the Port of Oakland, and what now remains where that portion of freeway once was, is the recently redeveloped Mandela Parkway, which I have featured in several other posts. Between 13th and 14th Streets is located Oakland Memorial Park, which is a beautifully rendered tribute to the events of that day.
Here is the actual seismograph from those 15 seconds…
Designed by April Philips Design Works and artists Gilman and Keefer, the landscape work conveys the waves that moved through the earth that day, with undulating sections of native grasses, and plantings arranged in concentric arcs emanating from the “epicenter,” Story Plaza at the corner of 14th and Mandela. Here, three curved ladders represent both the literal ladders thrown up against the damaged structure that day by local residents to save those trapped within, and the symbolic hope of community spirit rising skyward from the dust of destruction. Excerpts from stories offered by local residents are imprinted into the concrete, such as “When the quake stopped, a rain of concrete dust obscured everything.”
On this anniversary, it seems fitting to remember that we do live in an earthquake prone region, and it is extremely likely that we will see another earthquake of similar magnitude in our lifetimes. In fact, there is a 62% probability of at least one quake of this size within the next 20 years. This statistic and an incredible wealth of information on the science of earthquakes and what we can do to prepare for them is located at the U.S. Geological Survey’s site “Putting Down Roots in Earthquake Country.” Please check it out. Strap those waterheaters. Get your disaster kits together. These things really do make a difference.
And by all means, go visit the Oakland Memorial Park… it’s a lovely spot to sit and remember.