Oct. 17 is among those unforgettable, infamous dates. While not as iconic or tragic as June 6, 1944, or Sept. 11, 2001, a generation of Bay Area residents will always remember what they were doing at 5:04 p.m. Oct. 17, 1989, when the 6.9-magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake rumbled through Northern California.
The largest earthquake on the San Andreas Fault since 1906 killed 63, injured more than 3,755, damaged some 14,500 structures and created more than 140 road closures regionally. It touched off a major fire in San Francisco’s Marina district and collapsed a 1.25-mile section of the two-level Cypress Street Viaduct in Oakland. It also shifted the Oakland side of the Bay Bridge approximately 7 inches eastward, causing a 76-by-50 section of the upper deck to loosen and crash onto the lower deck. Repairs forced the closure of the span for a month.
The disaster rattled at least seven counties, left thousands homeless and rang up property damage totaling $6 billion, plus another $4 billion in related costs. The quake struck just before Game 3 of the 1989 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s, and delayed the Fall Classic for 10 days.
However, all that resulted from a relatively “moderate” seismic event. The 1989 temblor originated in the Santa Cruz Mountains, away from urban centers, and, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, released just 3 percent of the energy of the 1906 quake. Loma Prieta was not the so-called “big one.” In fact, USGS estimates that between now and 2032, there is a 62 percent chance of a 6.7-magnitude or greater earthquake hitting the Bay Area.
If a Loma Prieta-level earth movement happens tomorrow on the Hayward fault, which runs south from San Pablo Bay through Berkeley and Fremont, the Association of Bay Area Governments estimates 80,000 to 160,000 homes and apartments would be damaged and as many as 300,000 would be left homeless. More than 1,700 road and bridge closures would isolate entire cities.
So the question is: Are you ready?
How prepared are you to take care of your family, including any pets, for a week or longer before emergency crews can get to you?
Start by assembling a survival kit. It should contain the basics of canned or packaged dry food, clean water, a manual can opener, waterproof matches, first-aid and hygiene supplies, extra cash, a radio, a flashlight, fresh batteries, blankets, warm clothes, gloves, socks and sturdy shoes. Other items — such as medication, eyeglasses, pet food and children’s needs — will depend on individual families. Check expiration dates and batteries twice a year, when clocks are adjusted in spring and fall.
This is by no means a complete to-do list. The point here is to strongly encourage active preparation. Go to the USGS Web site to find all kinds of information.
Contact your fire department, sheriff’s office or the regional Homeland Security Department office and ask for disaster preparedness information. Communicate with family, friends, neighbors, employers and school officials to establish plans. Please do not wait to do these things.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina formed near the Bahamas on Aug. 23 and blew across southern Florida as a Category 1 storm. Katrina took another five days to reach New Orleans on Aug. 29.
A 6.7-magnitude earthquake could hit the Bay Area in 10 to 20 years or in 10 to 20 minutes. Your guess is as good as mine.
Are you ready?
Adrienne J. Tissier is a member of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors.