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Marking 20th anniversary of Loma Prieta

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POSTED October 16, 2009 1:57 a.m.
“Stop the presses!”

Those were the words Randy McParland had longed to say as executive editor of a small town newspaper in Fresno County.

In fact, I’m willing to bet that he wasn’t the only one in the printed media to utter those very words shortly after 5 p.m. that Tuesday, Oct. 17, 1989.

This Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of that day.

As Randy recalled, the first run of newspapers had come to a screeching halt when he and the other powers that be decided to add local coverage of the Loma Prieta Earthquake.

The 7.1 magnitude on the Richter scale tremor rocked the Bay Area just prior to the Battle of Bay between the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants, with the national media already on the scene because of Game 3 of the World Series.

My sister, Mal, and her husband Steve had just settled into their seats at Candlestick Park. She remembered a great sense of fear throughout the stadium when the quake struck followed by a tremendous sigh of relief.

As residents of San Jose, they had grown accustomed to the occasional seismic activity that comes with living in the Bay Area. My sister had described the general mood at Candlestick as nearly festive upon leaving the park shortly after then-baseball commissioner Fay Vincent announced the World Series game was canceled until further notice.

They really weren’t aware of the devastation – the broken 50-foot section of the Bay Bridge, collapse of the Cypress Street viaduct on the Nimitz Freeway (Interstate 880), destroyed homes in San Francisco’s Marina District, 63 fatalities and over 3,700 injured – until they reached the stadium parking lot. By then, folks were tuned to their car radios, listening about the power outages and congested traffic throughout the Bay Area in addition to the mayhem.

Fortunately, they were able to reach some family thanks to the kindness of others that day who allowed the use of their cell phones. Unlike today, not as many people had cell phones in 1989.

Meanwhile, my older sister, Frances, was working in Daly City when the quake knocked out the power at her bank office. Her daily route from Alameda to the City had consisted of the Cypress Street viaduct and the Bay Bridge. But that was no more.

Instead, she had to drive through the darkness along the realm of the lower portion of the San Francisco Bay all the while worrying about her family. Her two boys were toddlers at the time. For Frances, her drive home that night was one of the longest three hours of her life.

I had missed all the commotion in the news room, getting the OK to go home and catch the opening of the World Series game following the afternoon deadline.

As it turned out, I was no different from many Bay Area sports fans.

Because this World Series involved both local teams, many had either left work early to catch the game at home or opted to stay late and participate with friends and colleagues as part of the group viewings of the game.

As a result, the rush hour traffic along the Bay Area freeways was much lighter than usual. All told, the fatalities and injuries could have been worse if not for this World Series.
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