Surviving The Violent Loma Prieta Quake

'None of Us Expected to Make It Out Alive'

Mike Colgan
October 17, 2019 - 3:00 am
The force of the October 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake opened these large fissures in the ground in front of this home on Summit Road in the Santa Cruz mountains in Santa Cruz, CA



For many who lived through Loma Prieta, it was one of, if not the scariest moment of their life. It certainly was for me.

I had just stepped on an elevator of a building at First Street and Taylor in San Jose.

As I told KCBS Radio anchors Stan Bunger and Jan Black minutes later [on-air>, none of us expected to make it out alive. 

“I was about to get on the elevator on the 12th floor of the building the bureau is located in, and it shook so violently that all three of us thought we were gonna die," I said. 

It was truly terrifying.

After catching my breath, I was sent to downtown Santa Cruz, where three people died in the collapse of the Pacific Garden Mall.


Resident John James remembered how shocked he was by what he saw.

“It looked like a third world country that had been bombed: bricks everywhere and rubble,” James said. “People were just kinda walking around in a stupor. They didn’t know what happened. It was kinda scary.”

Santa Cruz Deputy Police Chief Rick Martinez — the only one left in the department who was in service that day — said the scariness continued long after the earthquake.

 Cooper Street in Santa Cruz, California, is shown after the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989.

“The aftershocks continued, so we were basically digging, and then the aftershock would hit and we’d run out of the building because the building would continue to come down around us,” Martinez remembered. “And all we were given for protective equipment was a set of gloves and probably an outdated, expired fire helmet, which I still have today.”

Santa Cruz Fire Chief Jason Haiduk, meanwhile, said people should remember the six P’s when scrambling during a disaster. “People and pets; phone numbers and important documents; prescriptions and eye glasses; pictures and irreplaceable assets; personal computer and hard drives; and plastic, which really includes money," he said. 

Haiduk said everyone should have a go-bag that includes food, water, medications, as well as meet-up location in case family members get separated.