The Bay Area's last major earthquake over 6.5 in magnitude occurred 34 years ago today, on a day when the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A's were coming onto the field for their first-ever Bay Bridge Series.
It was a warm, clear and sunny day just like it is today in San Francisco. The Giants still played at Candlestick Park in 1989, and the evening of October 17 had much of the Bay Area giddy with excitement, getting off work early to rush to their neighborhood bar, to watch parties, or to their living room TV to watch Game 3 of the World Series, in which the A's were up by two games, having played the Giants twice at the Oakland Coliseum over the previous weekend.
Like today, October 17 was a Tuesday in 1989. The series had come to Candlestick, and fans were just getting settled in when the quake struck at 5:04 p.m. Pacific Time. Thus it was carried on national television immediately — as you can see in the ABC Sports footage below.
The quake strikes and the feed from the ballpark goes out at the 2:24 mark — unfortunately they were in the midst of replays from Game 2, so we only get broken-up audio of the announcers saying "We're having an earthquake." It then goes to audio only, and at the 2:50 mark it flips to longtime local KGO anchor Cheryl Jennings, cool as a cucumber in the San Francisco studio, reporting in the first minutes after the quake even as the studio rumbles with aftershocks (see the 10:40 mark).
SFist has long admired Jennings's laudable professionalism in that moment of crisis — the nine-time Emmy Award winner effectively retired in 2018, and she's been living in Las Vegas working as a strategic communications advisor.
Jennings continued to broadcast for at least an hour or two after the earthquake, though the video clip cuts out after 45 or so minutes. And it's fascinating to watch as bits of news dribble in — in the pre-internet, pre-cellphone era — the first bits of which include helicopter footage of the damaged eastern span of the Bay Bridge.
They did not know that the greatest tragedy of the quake was unfolding on the Cypress Freeway in Oakland, where the upper deck pancaked onto the lower deck, trapping people and killing some in the cars.
63 people died in the Loma Prieta earthquake, 42 of those on the Cypress Freeway viaduct.
As in the Great Earthquake of 1906, fires broke out in San Francisco as a result of ruptured gas lines and other issues, and in the hours after the quake, the biggest fires were in the Marina District, which sent smoke billowing up over the Bay.
Since 1989, the only other significant earthquake to strike the Bay Area was the 2014 Napa earthquake, a 6.0M quake which struck in the early morning hours of August 23, 2014. Around 200 people were injured in the earthquake, and one person was killed.
On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Loma Prieta in 2019, NBC Bay Area put out a 49-minute documentary that you can see here. It's narrated by local legend and PBS fave Peter Coyote.
On Thursday, SF will participate in the annual Great American Shakeout earthquake drill.
And you should use this anniversary to update your go bag, or put together your first go bag — remembering that you may lose cellphone service, you may lose water service, and you may need to pay for everything with cash for the first day or two after a major earthquake.