San Francisco, CA Deadly Earthquake, Oct 1989

Earthquake Damage Nimitz Freeway Collapse



San Francisco (AP) -- A catastrophic earthquake rocked Northern California Tuesday, killing at least 200 people and injuring 400, caving in a section of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, igniting fires and causing widespread damage to buildings.
At least 200 people were crushed to deathin their cars when a mile-long section of the upper level of Interstate 880 in Oakland collapsed onto the lower level, according to MARTY BOYER, public informatiion officer for Alameda County.
TOM MULLINS, spokesman for the California Office of Emergency Services, said preliminary figures indicated at least 400 people had been injured throughout the area.
The quake registered 6.9 on the Richter scale and was on the notorious San Andreas Fault. It forced the evacuation of 60,000 fans from Candlestick Park, where they were waiting for Game Three of the World Series to begin. No major injuries were reported at the stadium.
Three hours after the 5:04 p.m. PDT quake, the magnitude of the disaster began to emerge as reports came in of widespread death and destruction.
Mayor ART AGNOS said eight deaths had been reported in San Francisco, five from buildings collapsing on cars, and three in a fire in the Marina section that blazed spectacularly through much of the evening before being brought under control. He said 12 buildings, all smaller residential dwellings, were destroyed, but there were no reports of major damage in high-rise buildings.
AGNOS' press secretary, EILEEN MAHONEY, said as many as 20 people had been injured at the Marina fire. Another fire was blazing near downtown Berkeley.
The California Highway Patrol said six people were killed in the collapse of part of the City Garden Mall in Santa Cruz.
On person died of a heart attack and four people were injured in San Jose, 50 miles south of San Francisco, according to WILLIS JACOBS of the National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo.
Based on the fatality reports, it was apparently the deadliest quake to strike California since a 6.6 tremor did severe damage to the San Fernando Valley of Southern California Feb. 9, 1971, killing 65 people.
The 6.9 Richter reading made the quake the sixth most powerful one to strike California in this century, and the most powerful since a 7.0 quake centered in Eureka in 1980.
As night fell, thousands of office workers, left with no transportation home, mingled with homeless people in downtown San Francisco. Fire and ambulance sirens howled.
Electrically powered trolleys formed little emply holes of light where they stalled, emergency blinkers winking in and out. Car headlights crisscrossed and pedestrians dodged among them.
People gathered in candlelit bars and restaurants. Groups of 10 or 20 people stood on sidewalks downtown, listening on large radios to reports of the earthquake.
Buses were jammed, but no one appeared to panic.
"You could see dozens of huge booms of smoke going into the air," said GREG HIGGINS, who was driving north in Watsonville near Santa Cruz when the quake struck."
"It looked like bombs going off into the city ... it was complete pandemonium. There were three major fires near us. There was no power in city at all."
"It was horrible. It got gradually bigger and bigger," said JEANNINE MARCHBANKS, who was at the San Francisco Airport, when the quake struck. "Windows started rattling. Things were falling from the ceiling."
"I will tell you as a native Californian, that was the wildest, longest earthquake I have ever ridden," said GREG COOK, 40, a spokesman for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Walnut Creek 25 miles east of Oakland. He said there were no reports of damage to any of the state's six nuclear reactors.
The quake was felt for hundreds of miles -- in Reno, Nev., 225 miles to the northeast and even in downtown high-rise buildings in Los Angeles 400 miles south of San Francisco.
WILLIS JACOBS, geophysicist with the USGS National Earthquake Information Center in Golden, Colo., said the quake was centered about eight miles northeast of Santa Cruz or 75 miles south of San Francisco along the San Andreas Fault. That is the major earthquake fault blamed for the 1906 disaster that destroyed much of the city and killed 700 people.
"We know of at least four aftershocks. We would expect them to be smaller magnitude," JACOBS said.
Between 500,000 to 1 million customers lost electricity, according to FRANK THORSBERG, a spokesman for the Pacific Gas & Electric Co.
Televised footage of the bridge connecting Oakland and San Francisco showed that a 30-foot section of the upper deck had collapsed, leaving three cars dangling between the two levels. Reports said most occupants got out of their cars safely, but CNN and ABD-TV reported that one person on the bridge was killed.
Hundreds of people fled Bay Area Rapid Transit subway and elevated stations in San Francisco and East Bay suburbs.

The Post-Standard Syracuse New York 1989-10-18




Shaken regularly by powerful aftershocks, the San Francisco Bay Area emerged Wednesday from a fitful night to fina a 100-mile-long scene of damage from the deadliest American earthquake since the San Francisco great quake of 1906.
Rescuers searched with dogs and sensitive microphones for the last possible survivors of the earthquake that killed at least 270 people. Approximately 250 people were feared entombed in tons of steel and concrete left when Tuesday's earthquake brought one level of Interstate 880 down atop another. At least 21 others were dead elsewhere in the quake area. State officials put the number of injured at 1,400, but a spokesman for a state hospital association said 2,750 patients were treated for quake-related complaints.
The 1 1/4 mile collapsed section of Interstate 880, known as the Nimitz Freeway, had been reinforced in 1977 in the first phase of a three-phase program to make the state's highways earthquake-proof, state transportaion officials said.
The next phase, which began in the last year, had been delayed on the Nimitz pending an engineering study, Caltrans chief engineer, BILL SCHAEFER, said.
Gov. GEORGE DEUKMEJIAN said the feeway's collapse was the result of sub-standard construction.
"I think .. we should have a full inquiry to determine why there were failures," said DEUKMEJIAN.
President Bush signed a disaster-relief declaration Wednesday and said "we will take every step and make every effort" to help. Bush directed an initial $273 million to relief efforts and said he would inspect the area by this weekend.
The 6.9 magnitude jolt hit Tuesday at 5:04 p.m. PDT, just before the start of Game 3 of the baseball World Series at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. In just 15 seconds, the earthquake destroyed or damaged hundreds of buildings along 100 miles of the San Andreas Fault, collapsed a section of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and two spans near Santa Cruz, cracked roads, and severed gas and power lines, sparking fires.
San Francisco Mayor ART AGNOS said 60 buildings are being considered for demolition and 1,000 people are in shelters, adding, "We expect that number to rise."
Most workers and students heeded appeals to stay home Wednesday in order to spare a highway and bridge system plagued by collapses and cracks and fissures in the earth. But some rode ferry boats or hiked over broken glass and masonry to work. And both the Bay Area Rapid Transit subway and the three major airports were open, although San Francisco International Airport was operating at 60 percent of capacity.
By Wednesday night, Pacific Gas & Electric had restored power to about one-half of the residential customers in San Francisco, the California Energy Commission said. About 300,000 South Bay customers were still without power.
Pacific Bell said its telephone network suffered no significant damage, but was being overloaded by a huge increase in calls into an out of the region.
Insurance companies could be held liable for as much as $3 billion to $4 billion in losses, said RICHARD J. ROTH, JR., assistant state insurance commissioner. That total does not include the cost of repairing roads, bridges and other uninsured structures.
Even before Tuesday's quake, 1989 had become by far the worst year ever for catastrophes. With 2 1/2 months remaining, the year's insured losses total $5.64 billion, double 1985's previous record of $2.82 billion.
Amid the destruction, one glimmer of optimism for the stricken region came Wednesday: baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent, in a candle-lit press conference, announced that Game 3 of the World Series between Oakland and San Francisco would resume next Tuesday at Candlestick Park.
Mayor LIONEL WILSON of Oakland said his city could not even provide security for the game before next week, let alone make other preparations.
"I told them that at this time I felt it would be inappropriate to play baseball in our city while there are still bodies still resting under the concrete of the overpass," WILSON said.
Meanwhile a series of earthquakes registering up to 6.0 on the Richter scale rattled northern China late Wednesday and early today, killing at least 18 people and flattening about 8,000 homes in a largely rural area, authorities said.
The quakes struck less than 24 hours after the San Francisco calamity, but Chinese officials said the two events were not related.
The U.S. quake seemed to bring out the best and worst in people in the bay area and around the world:
Ignoring the screams of victims on Oakland's collapsed freeway, looters preyed on wrecked cars and trucks in the minutes after the earthquake, police said.
An unidentified bus driver on Interstate 880 saw the pavement buckling behind her just as the quake struck. She raced the bus to an exit as the decks collapsed, saving her passengers lives. The woman, also a nurse, then provided emergency care to injured motorists after Oakland police commandeered her bus as a rolling morgue.
The Universal Studios Tour in Universal City, Calif., temporarily closed its popular "Earthquake" attraction, a terrifying simulation of an 8-plus magnitude quake in the San Francisco Bay area. "We are closing the earthquake attraction only for 48 hours out of respect and as a sympathetic gesture to our neighbors in the Bay Area," said Universal spokeswoman JOAN BULLARD.

Oakland, Calif. -- For DR. JAMES BETTS, the horror of Tuesday's earthquake peaked right around 8 p.m. It was then that the surgeon reached a frightened young boy names JULIO BERUMEN after slithering 20 yards on his belly through a two-foot crawl space in the wreckage of the crumpled Nimitz Freeway.
JULIO, 6, was pinned in a car, the weight of his mother's dead body upon him. After a quick look around, BETTS and paramedics knew what had to be done. Using a chainsaw, they cut through the woman to reach her trembling son.
Covered with blood and crying weakly, JULIO was not yet out of trouble. To free the boy, whose limbs were entwined in the mangled car, BETTS had to amputate the child's right leg above the knee, working for three hours under floodlights in cramped, sweaty confines.
BETTS has seen many gruesome sights in his lifetime, working air crashes and other disasters. But none compared with the rescue of JULIO.
"I hope I'm never involved in something like this ever again," the weary surgeon said later at Children's Hospital, where the boy was in critical but stable condition after undergoing further surgery. The amputation took "10 minutes, but it seemed, like an eternity," he said.
As the sun cast light on the shattered Bay Area Wednesday, the horror of the earthquake and the collapse of the Interstate 880, known here as the Nimitz Freeway, crashed down full force upon survivors, from doctors and rescue personnel to relatives of people still missing and feared dead.
More than 250 people were feared killed when the upper deck slammed upon the lower level of the busy freeway during rush hour, and officials held out little hope they would find survivors.
At hospitals, mortuaries and coroner's offices around the area, the day after was filled with wrenching stories of the killer quake's victims and near victims.
Survivors driving on the freeway during the collapse spoke in shaky voices from hospital beds as they recalled their brushes with death -- and wondered why they made it.
DARRELL McDANIEL, 32, a bookkeeper, left work early to rush home from his job in Richmond for Game Three of the World Series. Driving along the upper level of the Nimitz, McDANIEL said he suddenly thought he had a flat tire.
"I was trying to control it when next thing I knew I was moving toward the guard rail ... I hit it. I remember (the truck) rolling over and winding up upside down and just waiting for another car to hit me," McDANIEL recalled as he awaited X-rays at Samuel Merritt Hospital in Oakland.
Although in pain from cracked ribs and a fractured vertebra, McDANIEL attempted to subdue a hysterical woman trying to jump over the guardrail in a desperate attempt to get off the lurching highway.
"You could hear the cars on the level underneath exploding (popping as they were crushed), people hollering, asking for help," McDANIEL said as his daughter and former wife stood by his side.
The section that collapsed was built in 1950s. It had been reinforced after the 1971 Sylmar quake in Southern California, but it would not meet today's earthquake standards, said KYLE NELSON, a spokesman for the California Department of Transportation. Department officials differed as to whether the technology exists to make such multi-columned freeways earthquake safe, and they were uncertain why the section collapsed.

The Post-Standard Syracuse New York 1989-10-19