400 prieta

Where Were You on Oct. 17, 1989?

Spartan Daily

The Spartan Daily student newspaper front page the day after the Loma Prieta earthquake (photo by Peter Caravalho, ’97 Graphic Design).

Much of San Jose State’s current student body was not born when the 6.9 magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake hit the Bay Area 25 years ago on Oct. 17, 1989.

Yet the fact that San Jose State took the need to prepare for the next big one seriously is clear to anyone on campus today.

“I was serving as SJSU’s associate vice president for administration when the earthquake hit,” said President Mohammad Qayoumi.

Starting the moment the shaking stopped, SJSU has been working with the California State University system to plan, fund and complete numerous projects with the goal of improving campus safety.”

Spartan Daily quake story

This Spartan Daily story, published shortly after the Loma Prieta earthquake, made clear the need to seismically retrofit many campus buildings (photo by Peter Caravalho, ’97 Graphic Design).

Three large construction projects underway now began after structural engineers recommended SJSU retrofit 10 buildings to make them safer.

The $55 million seismic retrofit of Yoshihiro Uchida Hall and Spartan Complex spans an entire block from South Fourth Street to El Paseo de Cesar E. Chavez.

In addition, the $90 million seismic retrofit and expansion of the Student Union spans another block from El Paseo de Cesar E. Chavez to the Ninth Street Plaza.

One more project is in the works and six others have been completed as follows:

  • North Parking Garage Seismic Retrofit, 1993
  • South Parking Garage Seismic Retrofit, 1993
  • Tower Hall and Morris Dailey Auditorium, 1996
  • Duncan Hall, 1997
  • Sweeney Hall, 1998
  • Trades Building, 2009
  • North Parking Garage Stair Tower, planned

What should you do if an earthquake hit campus today?

“Although I have been a California resident for most of my life, the power of the 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake was astounding,” said SJSU Chief of Police Pete Decena.

If there is one thing I would like the campus community to remember in the event of a major earthquake, it is to Drop, Cover and Hold On. Then, when the shaking stops, leave if it is safe to do so.”

The University Police Department website offers more information including assistance for the disabled. A refresher course on how to protect yourself during an earthquake is available online.

17 thoughts on “Where Were You on Oct. 17, 1989?

  1. I left Sweeney Hall that day, earlier than usual, for an off campus meeting with two friends —

    Upon returning to my office, the next day, I found it in very bad shape!

    The large heavy Oak Bookcase that was in there when I began working at the college, had not been secured to the wall and it had fallen right where I normally sat. My chair was smashed, as was my computer.!!!… I guess the good Lord was looking after me and I am happy that, today, I am able to be around to tell you what I found when I went back to my office. I trust that, now, the University has secured all items that should be, along with doing their currently commendable larger projects!

  2. I was leaving work at Clark Library. The whole building started shaking and students were screaming and trying to rush out of the building. Librarians and staff members kept on telling them to calm down and walk, “no running.”

    I was trying to find cover by a desk. It was very messy and people were very panic. The shake lasted for a good 15 seconds.

    We were informed to stay home the next day. Two days after when we went back to work, we were stunned by a sea of books falling on the floors, many metal shelves were twisted. We spent days picking up books and re-shelving them.

  3. I was working in an engineering lab, with a wall of components next to my workbench when the quake hit (Los Gatos). I crawled under a drafting table and watched a shower of discrete components and glass rain down around me. The ground moved too much to try to walk. Cars outside were jumping. some bumped into each other. The parking lot was cracked. Power was out for a few days. No gas pumps, no street lights. Lots of boom-boxes set to news. It was years before I could wait under an overpass without shuddering.

  4. I was actually a student at SJSU when the Loma Prieta earthquake happened. I lived at Allen Hall which no longer exists. We were evacuated and took my roommate and her friend home with me until we could come back to the dorms. Twenty-five years later, here I am again, once again a student.

  5. I was working in the Clark Library (yes, it was the main campus library at that time) as a student assistant. Most of the staff had already left for the day; there were two or three students working the library’s circulation desk at the time, along with one staff member. The circ desk was right next to some very tall windows by the entrance, and when the shaking started, we were most afraid of the glass raining down on us. You could actually see the glass flex and move with the quake, but it didn’t break. We dove under the circ desk which was really sturdy but not very deep. The glass could have gotten us there if it had broken. Once the shaking stopped, people went running from the building. We shut down our service point, security cleared the building, and we left. Since power was out around town, traffic was just gridlocked with people trying to get home. I couldn’t leave for a couple of hours. Once I could leave, it took forever to inch through all the traffic, and took several hours to go about 5 miles. Many of the bookstacks (the big long rows of shelves) fell like dominoes. The library stayed closed for some time while the building was assessed, shelves repaired, and then while we cleaned up the thousands and thousands of books that had fallen.

  6. I was in downtown Santa Cruz, holding on for dear life, when the bricks started falling. The place was a mess of masonry, dust, broken water pipes, smashed cars, and glass shards. People were streaming out of stores and restaurants. Cracks appeared in many buildings, which were constructed of non-reinforced masonry. One of my colleagues, who had just left our office, thought I’d been killed. I spent the next several weeks videotaping the destruction and the demolition. On the UCSC campus, I found the library as a jumble of books, and the labs were littered with broken glass, spilled chemicals, and overturned workspaces. We didn’t have power for several days, and the phone lines were so jammed that I couldn’t call my parents to let them know I was OK. Rumors were spreading rapidly. At one point, I heard on the radio that the Bay Bridge had collapsed completely. And then we had to watch in shock as one by one, historic buildings in downtown Santa Cruz were torn down and the streets were dug up to install new infrastructure.

  7. I left the Clark Library stacks to head home in time to watch the World Series with my son and daughter. My husband was in Denver on business so it was just the three of us.

    I got home just a few minutes before 5:00 but neither of them were home yet. They wandered in just a few minutes before the earthquake hit.

    After running out to our back yard and holding onto each other to keep our balance, we could actually see the houses across the street from us over the top of our house as the ground rolled.

    My analytical brain has never been able to explain it, but the morning before the quake hit, my son (then 16) had been frightened by a dream that he shared with me before heading off to school. He told me that he had dreamed that there was a 7 point earthquake off of Santa Cruz!

  8. THE ARTICLE HAD THE WRONG TITLE. A BETTER TITLE WOULD BE HOW DID THE LOMA PRIETA EARTHQUAKE AFFECT YOU.
    ALTHOUGH I DID NOT SUFFER ANY SUBSTANTIAL DAMAGE, I WAS AFFECTED BY THE EARTHQUAKE. THE FOLLOWING DAY WHEN I REPORTED TO WORK AT THE SANTA CLARA COUNTY HEALTH DEPARTMENT MAIN HEADQUARTERS AT 2220 SOUTH MARKET, I WAS ONE OF THE FEW EMPLOYEES WHO DID REPORT AND WAS GIVEN THE DUTY OF MANNING THE RECEPTION DESK, BECAUSE I WAS THE RECEPTIONIST’S RELIEF FOR BREAKS AND WHEN SHE WAS ON VACATION OR OUT ON SICK LEAVE.
    DURING THAT DAY, I LEARNED HOW CRUCIAL IT TO HAVE STAFF THAT ARE WILLING TO DO FUNCTIONS THEY ARE NOT NORMALLY ASSIGNED IN ORDER TO KEEP THE DEPARTMENT RUNNING. ONE OF MY ASSIGNMENTS WAS TO HANDLE INCOMING CALLS FROM THE HEAD OF THE DEPARTMENT WHO HAD BEEN SENT TO COMMUNICATION HILL ALONG WITH OFFICIALS FROM OTHER AGENCIES AND THE ADMINISTRATION STAFF THAT HAD REPORTED TO THE DEPARTMENT MAIN OFFICE. THESE CALLS INVOLVED FINDING OUT WHAT DAMAGE HAD BEEN DONE TO THE DISTRICT OFFICES AS WELL AS THOSE OF OTHER AGENCIES.
    THIS IS ONE OF THE MAIN REASONS THAT I FEEL THE ARTICLE SHOULD HAVE HAD ANOTHER TITLE.
    A DISASTER LIKE AN EARTHQUAKE ISN’T OVER WHEN IT STOPS BUT HAS MANY OTHER REPERCUSSIONS SOME OF WHICH ARE PERMANENT AND CANNOT BE REMEDIED.

  9. I was working at Clark Library that day also, and I had just left. I was with a co-worker on 4th street, we were getting ready to cross the street to what was then a dirt parking lot when it hit. Trying to walk on the sidewalk felt like walking on a water bed. I staggered over to the streetlight and held onto it and she held on to me and we tried to keep from falling. Her sister who was in her car across the street for some reason (panic?) got out of her car and she stood between her car and a van parked next to her. I could see the cars and her bouncing up and down, I remember being surprised to see that even the large van was lifting off the ground and I was worried about her sister standing there. We were able to get on the freeway and although it took a while to get home it was not nearly as long as it took some people. That is when I was able to get news reports of how wide-spread the destruction was. Then a few days later we came back to work and began the clean-up.

  10. I was a 1st-time freshman student at SJSU & was in the 4th floor TV lounge of Joe West Hall when the quake struck. It felt as if a bomb had gone off. The power went out during the shaking. After the shaking stopped, everyone was evacuated to Quirk’s Meadow, on the same side of 9th Street just north of West Hall, where the Dining Commons staff CONTINUED to serve dinner (which started at 4:45PM back then). Everyone was outside until the sun went down. Joe West Hall residents had to spend the night in the TV lounge of the “red brick halls” because Joe West did not have emergency lights. I spent the night in Royce Hall. The lights came back on around 2AM in the morning. We were allowed back in West Hall when daylight came on

  11. My Husband and I owned a house on 16th street and we both happened to be home at the time. Our biggest surprise was that our craftsman home built in 1908 managed the quack like a ship on water. There was no damage. I was then a student in the SJSU art department. The hardest part was realizing how lucky we were compared to the other parts of the bay area.

  12. I was in my last semester (Dec grad) in the Union at the register buying a sandwich and a drink. After the ruckus, a few shaken nerves among the crowd, I think we headed out to see what was going on….it was pretty calm on campus – the (at the time) new engineering building has lost a few tiles and had a few interior cracks.

    And getting on the roads was a no-no. Just walking along the perimeter of the campus was total gridlock. It stayed that way for many hours.

  13. I had left SJSU and had gone to work in Portola Valley, CA, about four miles southwest of Stanford. I was working in a Sports Physical Therapy clinic and we had a new P.T. working with us that day, from Chicago. At 5:04pm the quake hit and I said to the new P.T., “It’s an earthquake, but don’t worry, we have them all the time. Just stand in the door frame until it stops.” Well, we soon realized that this quake was “the big one” as our fear grew into horror and everyone was screaming. I thought of all my friends at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, because the SF Giants were playing the Oakland A’s in the World Series that year.

    As the building shook, it shook up and down vertically as well as side-to-side laterally. I remember my exact thought. I pictured the “Green Giant” underneath our building, shaking it like it was made of paper…I was just waiting for the Earth to open up and swallow our building with all of us in it. I was never more horrified in my life! And it lasted about 30 seconds or more, which is a very long time for a 6.9/7.0 quake.

    No one was injured in our clinic, but we were left emotionally scarred for life. The power was out and the phone lines were down so I went out to my car and turned on AM radio. KGO and KCBS were the two radio stations I thought to tune in for information. One of the two was knocked off the air, can’t remember which, but I had instant news reports from helicopters that were flying over SF and the entire Bay Area…the Bay Bridge damaged with cars literally hanging off the edge, the freeway completely buckled like an accordion in the East Bay, the complete devastation in the Marina District of SF, major damage in Santa Cruz and Watsonville and on and on. I drove to a friend’s house in Redwood City and they had power. They had the TV on and I will never forget the images of the cars hanging off the bridge, the buckled freeway and so much more. It was so surreal and we were all in shock.

    I could not reach my husband who was working as a Police Officer in San Mateo. Their central dispatch was knocked out and they had only radio-to-radio contact, I learned much later, more than 24 hours later when I finally saw my husband. All emergency personnel stayed on duty, helping its citizens, trying to protect the city and its businesses and doing whatever was necessary — triage to the max.

    My mother had just left work (the 38th floor in the SF Financial District) and was driving home to watch the game. Like all drivers on that freeway, her car was being moved around, uncontrolled by her…she thought she had a flat tire, no idea it was an earthquake. She was not injured, thank God.

    My father was fine at his workplace, and my sister, who lived in Santa Cruz, was also uninjured. But hearing her describe what she saw was unbelievable.

    I have lived in Santa Cruz County since 1991. The epicenter of the Loma Prieta Earthquake that day in 1989 sits just a few hundred yards from where I now live. That epicenter is in Nisene Marks State Park, about six miles south of Santa Cruz. Before October 17, 1989 I didn’t mind earthquakes. I’m a San Francisco native and lived through them my whole life. Since that day every earthquake scares me because we don’t know when the next “big one” will hit. The physical memories that our bodies hold never go away. It was by far the most terrifying day of my life. I’m glad I lived through it and I will always be sad for those who lost their lives that day.

  14. I was at home with my parent watching a television VHS tape and waiting to get my dinner. At 5pm there was a loud “truck sound” which I thought was coming around the corner (to the location of where I lived with my parent). Then the television screen went to a “pin-point.” My parent cried out, “Earthquake” and I got up to move but found myself stuck in a circular motion made from this tremor. I dropped my dinner plate where I stood and we both moved to a door frame and held onto the frame. I felt gravity moving me outside of this door frame but held on and said to my parent, “When is it going to stop?” It stopped. We checked about the property and saw (1) minor cracks outside our house, (2) my vehicle steering wheel had moved about 90 degrees, (3) my parents old full-length mirror crashed also.

    Next day I stayed home from work in case the tremor returned–it did not but less powerful tremors occurred later that month.

    I also recall two tremors earlier that year. These “precursors” to me were tremors that moved in the same motion as Oct. 17th. June month in the afternoon as I sat on a sofa, then August in the early morning (I was dreaming of the eruption of Pompeii and heard a small crash–a small vase fell in another room), then October in the afternoon (again sitting in the same room as June). It was also very quiet up to that October 17 day–no birds sang in the morning before this day and before October 17 I had heard a cracking noise at one of my bedroom corners at night.

  15. I was in my off-campus apartment at the time, on S. Third near San Salvador. the apartment building (still occupied today) was built in the 1880s. As I stood in the doorway of my downstairs studio apartment, I watched and felt the building rock back and forth as I called out to my neighbors (other students) and they called out back. I kept repeating to myself, “this building survived the 1906 quake, it will be OK.” And it was. Afterwards we congregated in the downstairs hallway and listened to news on a battery operated radio. Then since the power was out, we all walked to the McDonalds on Third and San Carlos. A friend of mine who couldn’t drive home due to highway closures spent the night. I recall being grateful that the phones worked, I was able to call my family in southern California and let them know I was OK. My boyfriend who lived with me was missing, but would turn up later. He was in the Mission College parking lot when the quake struck, and was stuck for several hours due to the impassible roads. I was so impressed that the Spartan Daily came out with a paper. It was comforting, like insurance that things would eventually be back to normal.

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