With the San Francisco Giants back in baseball’s World Series it reminds me that 21 years ago there was the famous “Earthquake World Series.” The earthquake’s subsequent tragedies brought an end to the ultimate baseball fantasy of Bay Area fans. I used the Loma Prieta quake as the backdrop for one of the climatic chapters of my novel “Expiation.” The Marina District of San Francisco, where Dan and Wendy lived with their daughter Vicki in “Expiation,” was one of the hardest hit areas in the earthquake.
The World Series in 1989 would be billed the “Battle Of The Bay” because finally the Giants and the Oakland A’s were going to meet in the championship series.
In Chapter 18 of my novel “Expiation” I described the events at the ballpark as the earthquake hit San Francisco on October 17, 1989..
I watched the A’s and Giants warming up on the field, and the fans filing in to occupy the orange seats at Candlestick. The dream was about 15 minutes away from becoming a nightmare.
At 5:04 p.m., just ten minutes before the start of the game, there was a major shift in the San Andreas Fault centered near Santa Cruz. It caused a 6.9 earthquake which lasted about 10-15 seconds. It seemed a lot longer as Candlestick Park swayed and shuttered. At the time the quake struck, ABC was broadcasting the preliminaries for Game 3 of the World Series, so most of the nation witnessed the earthquake live.
Fate was being kind to the Bay Area, even though it took a few days to appreciate the benefits. Because of the interest in the World Series, many commuters had left work early to get home for the big game or had stayed in the city to watch the Series at bars or other gathering places. The benefit was that the normally congested commute traffic was much lighter than usual.
Power was lost to the ballpark and to the live broadcast on radio and television. The game was postponed. Soon backup generators kicked in and those of us in the press box gathered to watch the live feeds of video showing what was occurring throughout the city. It was difficult to imagine since we were confined to the ballpark.
The Goodyear Blimp, which was airborne to cover the World Series, now switched over to earthquake coverage. Some of the first pictures to come in sent a jolt of absolute terror through me in seconds. “It appears that the Marina District has suffered severe damage and there are fires burning unchecked at this point in that neighborhood. There are reports of breaks in natural gas lines, and in water lines needed to fight the fire,” the reporter was saying in the voice-over narrative to the live pictures of the fire.
I strained to try to determine where in the neighborhood the live pictures were being taken. I had to get out of here. I quickly picked up a phone in the press box and dialed my home. No phone service was available. I tried again, the call didn’t go through.
I ran in a panic to the parking lot for my car. I had no idea what I would be up against as I drove through the city. It took forever just to get out of the parking lot at Candlestick. There were emergency vehicles everywhere, and several intersections were blocked. I tried to monitor the situation listening to the car radio.
It took an agonizing two hours winding my way through the city to get near the Marina District. Much of the city looked okay. I couldn’t see any damage but the traffic was horrendous. When I got as close as I thought possible in my car, I parked and began to run for home.
I could see the smoke billowing out of the neighborhood, and heard sirens coming from all directions. I kept running on pure adrenaline. I have no idea how long and how far I ran. My heart sunk as I saw the fire from the natural gas rupture raging out of the control. Volunteers were helping the firemen piece together hoses to the nearest water source.
Where could Wendy and Vicki be in all of this chaos?
Now the Giants play in their dazzling new ballpark, AT&T Park, downtown by the Bay. The Loma Prieta earthquake at the moment the 1989 World Series was ready to start is part of baseball and San Francisco history. I attempted to put a human face on the tragedies of that quake and it provides one of the most poignant moments in “Expiation.”
Check out these links to learn more about the Loma Prieta earthquake and the news coverage of this historic event. It also captures some of the flavor of San Francisco at the end of the 1980s.