Saturday, October 17, 2009

20 Years Ago Today

Cypress Structure

It was 20 years ago today that the Loma Prieta earthquake hit and changed the lives of everyone in the Bay Area. It also changed the landscape of West Oakland in a big way.

Twenty years ago I was living and working in Berkeley for a software company on the top floor of what was then called the Great Western building (now the Power Bar building.) We felt a jolt and many of us stood up in the hallway, then the major movement hit. It's fortunate we stood up, because some of the shelves that were used for dividing the space into cubicles fell and the people in those cubicles would have been badly injured if they'd stayed at their desks. We had a good view over the Bay Area and could see much of the damage: the fire at Hustead's, the fires in the Marina district in SF, the collapsed section of the Bay Bridge (with binoculars). It was eerie to look down the side of the building, and see it gently swaying for some time after the shaking had stopped. Once the magnitude of the quake became apparent, people headed home or made other arrangements as best they could, since it was no longer possible to get to San Francisco without a major detour. No one was sure what they'd find when they got home.

I didn't find out about the collapse of the Cypress Structure until I got home north of the Cal campus. It was stunning and horrific to hear about. I can only imagine what it was like to be there as it collapsed, or for the rescuers coming in after. In the months following the earthquake, the jumbled wreckage was demolished, and people started to discuss how to rebuild it. Local residents in West Oakland made it clear they didn't want the same thing built back. It took time, but 8 years later, a new connector was built, routed around the residential areas of West Oakland, and at ground level. No longer would a massive elevated freeway structure divide the neighborhoods. In the place of the old freeway, the Mandela Parkway was built at ground level, and features a wide green space in the middle. That at least was one good thing to come out of the earthquake.

1 comment:

James said...

I remember that earthquake very well. I was living in San Leandro. I was home from work and I just turned on the World Series.
That was the strongest earthquake that I've ever felt.
I remember the poor man who was trapped under the Cypress Structure for like four days. I was so happy when he was rescued but sadly he died not long after.