Tuesday, October 17, 1989, 5:04pm, minutes before the start of game 3 of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A's. It registered 7.1 on the Richter scale. Just prior to this I was in the upper deck at Candlestick Park visiting some friends who also had tickets. I was on my way down the ramp to the lower deck, and was near the bottom of the ramp with a friend, who said, "Is that an earthquake?" I stopped, felt some shaking and looked down. My head was still but I could see the ground move several feet in each direction under me. Yes it was an earthquake, and a huge one. It shook for 45 terrifying seconds.
There were 62,000 fans there, and when the shaking stopped, there was dead silence. Everybody looked up and around. A few seconds later, a monstrous cheer erupted. Welcome to San Francisco! "We had an earthquake on national TV! Awesome! Welcome to California!" could be heard by many of the fans. No visible damage. We proceeded to the concession line to buy some goodies. Just then, the power went out. The cash registers were electric, so no change could be made because the drawers were stuck shut. The concessionaires took the next bill up. We made it back to our seats (seven rows behind home plate were where my season tickets were.) People were dazed and confused. The scoreboard and PA system were not working due to the power outage.
Players and police were out on the field. A chant of "Play Ball!" erupted from the crowd. Who needs a scoreboard? Scoreboard, schmoreboard. A fan just behind us had a Sony Watchman (remember those?) He said that the Bay Bridge had collapsed. This was simply unbelievable news. A few minutes later (how can you sense time when something like this happens?), a police car with a hand held mega phone blurred something out that sounded like Charlie Brown's teacher. We were all told to go home. Go home? This is the World Series!
Once out into the parking lot, we saw a TV news van with an open door. There were many television monitors, and since it was operating on battery power, we could see the damage being broadcast by the blimp. What we saw were truly horrific pictures. A section of the Bay Bridge collapsed. A freeway had pancaked on top of itself and miles of it were laying on the ground. A massive fire broke out in the Marina district. This was a major catastrophe.
The SFPD told fans to stay close to the stadium, as bridges were out. All the other bridges in the Bay Area were closed for inspection. We had to wait. We figured that we would be there a while, so we proceeded to a mini-mart at a neighboring RV park to buy some beer. We bought a case. The door was blocked by a table, as they didn't let people in. They took orders and made sales at the door. When we turned around to leave, there was a line behind us hundreds of people deep. Suddenly we got questions about where we got the beer. Not wanting to wait in line, people started bidding on our beer! We sold to the highest bidder and walked away with eighty bucks.
After quite a while of waiting, it was getting dark. Police were being called away because there was heavy looting downtown. It was at this point we got scared. We decided to make a run for it, and anticipated heavy traffic as we headed 50 miles down to San Jose to wrap around the bottom of the bay and up the other side another 70 miles home. It was the only way home without crossing a bridge. By the time we got to the San Mateo bridge, it was open. We hit a Denny's on the way home, and it was filled with fans who were talking about the event. I eventually got home at 1:30am.
I will never forget that day or the experience of that earthquake. Hundreds of people were feared dead from the freeway collapse. Some tourists from Connecticut managed to shoot some video from the collapsed section of the bridge, with the eerie sight of a car crashing to the deck below. The replacement section had a different paving surface, a constant reminder of that day. I will write more about this event, its aftermath and what happened in the postponement of the Series. [Update: a followup post can be found here]