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1989: San Francisco earthquake survivors
On 17 October 1989, San Francisco was rocked by a powerful earthquake at just after 5pm local time.

It lasted just 15 seconds, but left 63 people dead - most of them killed when a two-tier freeway collapsed - and there was massive damage to buildings all over the city.

The number of people who died could have been much higher had it not been for the fact that many baseball fans had left work early to go and watch the third of the World Series on television.

Your accounts of the quake.

I was only four at the time but I remember so much of that day and the following weeks.

I remember when the quake first hit my friend Ashley and I were playing hide and seek.

I had no idea what was happening. I grabbed tight onto the trunk of the tree I was standing beside.

We could hear the sound of smashing glass as all the bottles in the local shop rattled off the shelves
Sarah, UK
The mums of course realised this was not a good idea so dragged us kids out away from all the buildings and trees.

We could hear the sound of smashing glass as all the bottles in the local shop rattled off the shelves. And then it was over.

In the weeks after the quake at the pre-school I used to go to we had regular "earthquake tests" - we were all taught that under tables was the safest place to be if you were indoors, or standing in a doorway if you couldn't reach a table.

So every now and then the teachers would just shout "EARTHQUAKE" and we all had to scramble under the tables as quickly as possible.

I never forgot those lessons.
Sarah Clarke, UK

This was a horrible earthquake. San Francisco is about 80 -100 miles (160km) north of the epicenter.

It destroyed Hollister and surrounding areas. Hundreds died.

One of them was my partner of 12 years. He died on the freeway that pancaked and crushed all the cars on the bottom level of the two-level freeway.

It strengthened the building codes even tighter - we have the toughest building codes because of the danger of bad earthquakes here in California.

It took me two years to get over it, and since I live in San Francisco, I'm trying to get out of California in the next three months, because we are overdue for the next big one.

I've moved forward, but on this day every year, I stop to remember my partner and the others that died.

I always will - Earthquakes are as damaging as category 3 tornadoes. But it's the price we pay to live in such a great, vibrant, diverse, wonderful city. I will miss it when I move.
Michael Koontz, USA

My sister and brother-in-law had arrived the day before from England on their first visit to the United States and the Bay Area. I had tickets to Game 3 of the World Series and treated my brother-in-law to the great American experience!

At 1655 hours I left him in the middle of a crowded stadium behind home plate to buy the pre-match beer. A long line. At 1704 I was next but one to be served.

I heard an incredible noise roar through the stadium, watched the vendor sign sway and turned to my left to see waves of concrete running along the concourse towards me. The lights went out.

I heard an incredible noise roar through the stadium, watched the vendor sign sway and turned to my left to see waves of concrete running along the concourse towards me
Alan Holdship, USA
I was next to be served so - having waited for so long - I bought my two beers, walked back to the seats to see my brother-in-law all alone in his seat wondering why everyone had suddenly got up and run for the field.

I explained that there had been an earthquake (my first experience of one as well) and that we were sitting under several thousand tons of concrete! We English are rather phlegmatic about such things!

We waited. Eventually the game was called. We were gridlocked in traffic for hours. My car gave up the ghost.

We walked down 3rd Street where everyone was friendly, handing out water, directing traffic, and one guy gave me 25 cents to call home (pay phone - not many cell phones then!)

We finally walked onto 101 in the pitch dark, I stuck out my thumb to hitch a ride and a guy visiting from Oregon stopped and gave us a lift home to Palo Alto - miles out of his way.

I never did get his name. Nor the names of the friendly people on 3rd Street. All were a testament to just how good people can be in the face of adversity.
Alan Holdship, USA

It was a beautiful "beach day" and I had just driven across the city out to "Ocean Beach", the west coast of San Francisco.

All of a sudden, as I was nearing the Ocean Beach parking lot, I thought the front axle broke on my car! That's how mush it "kilted and bounced"!!

I realized there was no damage to my car and as I drove the last mile to the beach parking-lot, the second jolt hit. I had my eyes "peeled" on the ocean for Tsunamis and saw all the surfers out on the water, blissfully unaware of what was happening.

I turned on my car radio to listen to the news. There were NO stations on! I will never forget seeing the miles long paved parking lot seemingly turn to water when the second jolt hit.

My brain could not seem to accept what my eyes were telling it. Then I saw the smoke rising over the hills of central San Francisco and really knew that something big had happened.

After a few minutes, one of the radio stations in my car came on and I realized it was a big one. I was too afraid to go home but at (finally) 1930 or so I did.

My appartment was destroyed. Thank God I was not at home when it hit! It was all surreal.
Rick Reckord, USA

I completed my university degree in 1989 and I had been travelling and working in the US for the summer.

When the earthquake struck, I was in a bank in Washington Square exchanging cash that I had earned for travellers cheques to bring home and pay off my overdraft.

The noise and shaking were unbelievably intense, but at first I thought they probably had an earthquake like that once a month or so.

It was only after I'd walked back to my apartment that I realised it was more serious. Residents of my building were sitting on the front steps watching a hand-held TV and we could see the bridge had partially collapsed.

By then we could also see plumes of smoke rising from the Marina district. I ended up drinking beer with a bunch of people I had never met before.

We went off in search of a restaurant that was open - completely in breach of the curfew that we didn't know was in place. We eventually found a Chinese place that was open and stayed there until after midnight.
Simon Crump, UK

I had just left my office in the Financial District when I felt a shake and I thought it was just a truck carrying steel girders to a construction site across the street.

When I stepped up on the curb the real quake hit and I grabbed a parking meter to keep upright. When I got home later I had black-and-blue marks on the inside of my legs from the shaking of the meter.

My commute was with the Golden Gate Transit to Sonoma County, one-and-a-half hours north, and surprisingly they were still running and we got back only one hour late in spite of no street lights and the confusion.

When I stepped up on the curb the real quake hit and I grabbed a parking meter to keep upright
Mac Dunn, USA
But the San Franciscans were phenomenal in the disaster, everyone helping others and no-one taking advantage of the situation.

San Francisco was virtually closed for the next four days with no electricity and therefore few services available.

I have lived most of my life in both San Diego and the Bay Area, and in Florida and Virginia, and I have experienced many earthquakes and hurricanes.

I must say that the level of damage in the Loma Peralta quake was high but the people were the best.

Sadly, the Bay Area is still, to this day -17 Oct. 2005 - rebuilding, most specifically the Bay Bridge, but a disaster and the follow-on cannot be easily put away.
Mac Dunn, USA

I was only six years old when the earthquake hit but I still remember it perfectly.

We used to do earthquake drills in school, so I knew enough to stop, drop, and cover.

The city has never been quite the same ever since then
Caroline, USA/France
We were very lucky and our house suffered nothing more serious than a broken light bulb. My parents were downtown at work and I remember being scared that something had happened to them. The pictures we saw on the news and all around us were terrifying.

The Marina district was almost completely destroyed and the bridge was in horrible shape.

The city has never been quite the same ever since then. There used to be a freeway entrance by Embarcadero, and it was never rebuilt.

After the earthquake, we had no school for a couple of days and when we went back, we started studying earthquakes.
Caroline, USA/France

My brother and I had been to visit my dad and stepmum who were living [in the USA] at the time.

It was our last day and I was very sad to be leaving as I was only 13 at the time and missed my dad a lot.

We had taken off when the earthquake hit and were told about it by the pilot.

It was all a bit of a shock as we had no way of contacting my dad to make sure he was okay or my mum to let her know that we were still on our way home.

Thankfully my dad's apartment had survived and he was able to contact my mum with the good news, but it was still another 12 hours before my brother and I were able to hear the good news.

I will never forget that feeling of shock and then relief, as we had seen a lot of the places that had been damaged on the sightseeing tour that our dad took us on.

We even had pictures of us standing on the fault line that week.
Catherine Ottway, England

I had just left Stanford Hospital where I had brought my mother for cancer treatment to get my daughter from day care.

I was on Interstate 280 when my steering felt like it had broken.

I noticed other autos had pulled off to the side of the road and then I realized that it was an earthquake.

My grandfather, who had lived through the 1906 Quake had always said that you needn't fear the quake but that you had to be prepared and keep calm.

With this in mind I did not stop driving; in fact I picked up my speed to get to the day care center as I thought I did not want to drive in traffic with frightend drivers.

I arrived at the day care center to find all the children outside the center, safe but scared. I got my daughter and drove home via back streets.

We had water, propane and food for just such an emergency. Since we could not drink tap water and power had been lost and that there might be after shocks, we lived in the garage for two days untill everything returned to normal.
Ron, USA

I was only four years old, but I remember this day vividly.

At the time, I lived in San Jose. My mother had just arrived at our daycare to pick me and my sister, who was two at the time, up to take us home. Then the quake struck.

My mother took charge telling everyone to calm down as she nervously watched the walls sway
Victoria Strong, USA
Everyone started panicking; all the children were screaming, terrified.

The woman who ran the daycare had never experienced an earthquake before, and she too started to panic.

My mother took charge telling everyone to calm down as she nervously watched the walls sway.

When the quake was over, my mother decided that we had enough time to get home before the aftershock hit.

Luckily, she was right, as we lived less than a mile from the daycare.

I didn't know it at the time, but my father was driving home when the quake hit.

He said he thought something was wrong with the transmission, because the car started to "bounce". He pulled over and stopped the car, only to realize the car was still "bouncing".

After the quake, he decided to brave driving home. Luckily, he made it.

That night, my sister and I slept in our parent's bed, terrified. Our parents did their best to calm us, and I suppose it worked, because we were able to sleep.

The next morning, the power in our house was still out, but we all started cleaning up the mess.

Nothing major was broken. A ceramic teddy bear that was on my shelf had fallen and shattered. I know other things were damaged, but I only remember the bear.

However, the palm tree that stood next to our house was still standing tall, as if protecting our house.
Victoria Strong, USA

I was there. It was actually two quakes-in-one. On the late afternoon of a very warm and still day, I was driving through the city towards SF's Ocean Beach.

All of a sudden, I felt as if my auto's front axle had broken - there was such a jolt!

I then drove out to the vast parking lot at the beach when the second tremor hit a few minutes later.

This one had a powerful rolling effect and I watched the who length on the cement parking lot roll like a giant wave!

Then I saw the smoke coming from the Marina District.

It was all like a bizarre dream. I'll never forget it.
Rick Reckord, USA

My friend and I were walking our dogs just before the start of the World Series game. When the shaking first started, I thought I was dizzy and I went to my hands and knees.

When I looked behind and saw my friend also on her hands and knees, I understood immediately that we were experiencing and earthquake.

The most dramatic thing I saw was actual two-foot waves in the pavement of the street!
Judy Winn, USA

I was only four when the quake hit. My mother grabbed me by the arm and pulled me up the stairs to go and get my two-year-old sister, leaving my two-month-old brother in the middle of the family room.

She was sleeping in the upstairs bedroom, and I have flashes of the bedroom, and that's the first time I actually remember the shaking.

On the way down the stairs, I dropped the magna-doodle I had been playing with, and I tried to go back and pick it up, but my mom - petrified that something would happen to my baby brother - yanked me on down.

In fact, the one emotion that stands out to me is not fear, but frustration because I wanted my toy and mom wouldn't let me get it.

Mom huddled us together in the middle of the floor (which we later learned was the worst thing we could have done) and we prayed that we would be safe, that our house would stay standing, and that my dad would be safe.

I was lucky. Dad was safe (he thought that he had blown a tyre while he was on the highway and so pulled over), and our house and whole neighborhood stayed very much in tact.

In fact, the sum total of my family's loss was two VHS tapes and my mother's ability to have nightmares not involving earthquakes.
Annalisa Young, USA

I had to go to the Coast Guard station in Alameda from my home in Vallejo earlier that day, and was settling down in front of the TV to watch the World Series.

Just as my wife and children walked in the front door, the quake hit. The ballgame was stopped, and we tried to call our extended families.

Fortunately for us, our home did not sustain any damage, but other parts of the Bay Area were not so lucky.

Even though the lights were out and the emergency services were stretched thin, there were no incidents of looting, not one.
Matthew Fenton, Hong Kong
San Francisco was without power and a fire started in the Marina district. A Navy frigate steamed from the Treasure Island base to the city and provided emergency power from her generators.

Due to the quake, fire mains in the Marina district were broken, so the only way to feed the fire mains was from the pumps on board the fireboat Phoenix. The city was planning to sell her just a few months before, because people didn't think it was needed anymore. Well, now we have two fireboats!

The news reports made it out that the whole area was demolished, but it wasn't. Most of the news broadcasts were in front of the same house on Divisadero Street.

Even though the lights were out, and the emergency services were stretched thin, there were no incidents of looting, not one.

People helped the firefighters with their hoses and their neighbors with their needs. There was a lot of civic pride and we put our best foot forward.

We also remember that the RAF and the French Air Force sent transport aircraft with relief supplies into Travis Air Force Base. We appreciated that a great deal.

But the eerie part of it all was looking at the Cypress Freeway. You see, I was on the bottom deck of it 3 hours before the quake.
Matthew Fenton, Hong Kong

I was out roller-skating near the end of my block of our military base house in Alameda, California.

I was watching a family struggle to get a large table into their house when suddenly they dropped the table and the earth began to shake.

My childlike instincts told me they had caused the earth to shake. I held tightly to the stop sign. I heard screaming for children and parents gathering them in grateful happiness.

I still remember my dad not just yelling but screaming my name. I remember the sewage pipes bursting and the awful smell it created.

It was an incredible experience, but I wasn't scared at all.

Many cups in our house broke and pictures had fallen, but everyone was safe. We huddled in the back of our car listening to the radio and watching a portable TV.

They continued to play the scene where the car drove right into the hole the earthquake created in the bridge. This experience is forever in my memory.
Larissa Martinson, USA

I was working in downtown San Francisco, just off Union Square. We were getting ready to close up for the day when the quake hit.

At first, we kind of shrugged it off as "just another earthquake", but it continued longer than usual, and harder. Our 10-storey building shook but was OK as it was sandwiched between two taller buildings.

Our power went out and we left the building to try to get home. A co-worker and I were lucky enough to get a cab to my house.

It was heartbreaking to hear about those who didn't make it
Kathi Real, USA
I had just gotten engaged and my fiancÚ was supposed to be coming to meet me from the East Bay. The timing was such that I knew he could have been either on the Cypress Freeway or the Bay Bridge, both of which had collapsed areas.

There was no electricity, the phone lines were in chaos and I didn't hear from him until 0600 the next day. Twelve hours of fear, sitting by my phone, listening to my battery-powered radio, wondering where he was and if another big aftershock was going to hit.

After learning he was all right, my room-mate and I volunteered to help the people in the Marina area who were fighting the numerous fires, and searching for survivors in the many collapsed houses there.

Some of them we brought back to the house to offer a hot meal, shower, clean clothes, etc. Some we fed there, handed out cold drinks, and just listened.

It was heartbreaking to hear about those who didn't make it.
Kathi Real, USA

I was in Hong Kong on holiday, eating luch in a Stanley pub, when the TV news flashed - "San Francisco devastated by earthquake".

The newscaster said the Bay Bridge had collapsed, killing hundreds, a baseball game stadium had been crushed and [there was] devastation everywhere.

We learnt later that this report was not what one would call accurate.

My daugher became hysterical, screaming about other family and friends who would have died.

I was unable to quiten her and finally shook her hard by the shoulders, telling her that I had lived through countless air raids, served in the Wrens and that the English survived! She became very angry and said I was was still an arrogant Englishwoman!

However it stopped her hysteria which was my objective.

We returned to San Francisco two days later. My daughter's apartment was alright. I took the airport bus back to this small university town, via the Golden Gate bridge. We saw the Marina area had really been damaged and some of the overpasses to the Bay Bridge had collapsed.

Not as ghastly as portrayed in the HK press.
Carroll Terra, USA

I remember very vividly that day. I was standing in my room and as the quake started I saw the trees outside the window. To my disbelief they popped up one after another like a wave passed below them.

Well of course that was exactly what was happening, but seeing the trees bobbing up and down like that was something I've never seen again, nor do I expect I ever will.

We were living in the East Bay area, and so we didn't sustain any major damage, which was a big relief. Our chimney sustained some damage as did others in the neighbourhood.
Aaron H, US

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Destroyed houses
About 12,000 people were made homeless by the earthquake


Road broken in two
Most of the fatalities occurred when a two-tier highway collapsed
Building on fire
Fires broke out around the city
Larissa Martinson
I still remember my dad not just yelling but screaming my name
Larissa Martinson, USA
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