Twenty-six years ago on October 17, 1989, a magnitude 7.1 earthquake shook Northern California just before Game 3 of the World Series between the Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
Half an hour before the quake struck, Lee and I walked the self-guiding Earthquake Trail on the San Andreas Fault Line beside Mission San Juan Bautista, about thirty miles south from the Loma Prieta epicenter. Then we drove a few miles to the outskirts of Hollister and checked into the Ridgemark guest cottages. The ground trembled at 5:02 p.m. for fifteen seconds.
For twenty years we lived in the East Bay hills on the active Hayward Fault and dealt with many quakes. As taught in grammar school, we braced ourselves in a doorway. Across the room, sliding glass doors, open because of hot weather that day, closed and opened during the rolling motion. Glass wavered in the large picture window. The hanging ceiling light fixture swayed back and forth. Power outage blackened television, radio, and lights. Several aftershocks later, all shaking and rattling ceased.
“OK, it’s over. Nothing’s broken. Let’s go eat.”
At the resort’s darkened dining room, a visibly frightened hostess said, “Sorry, we’re closed. Our power is out.”
We walked back to our cottage. No lights, no telephone, no food.
We sat in our big Bronco and heard a radio alert that the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge collapsed.
More aftershocks. Our Bronco bounced and swayed as if it were a carnival ride. Neighboring guests hurriedly packed their vehicles and fled.
We drove a few blocks to find a restaurant. Darkened traffic lights caused congested intersections. The power outage forced gas stations, restaurants, and businesses to close. Supermarkets turned away customers at the door. Goods fell off shelves and littered floors.
We drove another block and found an open Yogurt and Submarine Sandwich Shoppe.
“Sorry, I’m closing,” the young man said. “Power’s out.”
“Oh, please,” we begged. “Just a sandwich.”
He slapped turkey slices between French rolls, ushered us out the door, and locked it behind us.
We returned to our cottage patio facing the golf course to eat cold turkey sandwiches with fruit, trail mix, and water we always carry with us. Aftershocks continued. An orange sun set behind the hills. Sirens screamed in the distance.
As the sole occupants left at the resort, we felt abandoned.
Our cottage stood firm. No broken windows. No cracked walls or ceiling. The hanging light fixture remained intact.
We believed it safe to sleep inside.
Aftershocks during the night rocked our bed. Our small flashlight rolled back and forth on the nightstand. Sirens continued through our sleepless night.
In the morning, the office and dining room remained closed. Our Bronco radio reported that parts of Highway 101 split, and cracks opened ditches in the pavement. Downtown Hollister was impassible. Brick buildings fell onto streets.
A kindly groundskeeper directed us to follow a country road east around the back way and north to where it meets Highway 101 near Gilroy. We drove slowly to avoid cracks in the pavement and empty farm crates scattered on and beside the road. We saw no activity, no people, no animals, no vehicles.
Normal travel time on the highway between Hollister and San Jose is one hour. Our detour lasted three hours.
We had no way of knowing which Bay Area bridges and elevated freeways collapsed. We avoided them all and drove northeast from San Jose on 680 to Stockton, north on I-5 to Lodi, northwest on 12 to Suisun, west on 80 to 37 and home to Novato.
Two days later, we learned that the quake caused a portion of the Mission San Juan Bautista bell tower to topple onto the area where we stood half an hour before the earth shook.