Loma Prieta earthquake strikes near San Francisco - HISTORY
Year
1989

Loma Prieta earthquake strikes near San Francisco

An earthquake hits the San Francisco Bay Area on this day in 1989, killing 67 people and causing more than $5 billion in damages. Though this was one of the most powerful and destructive earthquakes ever to hit a populated area of the United States, the death toll was quite small.

The proximity of the San Andreas Fault to San Francisco was well-known for most of the 20th century, but the knowledge did not stop the construction of many un-reinforced brick buildings in the area. Finally, in 1972, revised building codes forced new structures to be built to withstand earthquakes. The new regulations also called for older buildings to be retrofitted to meet the new standards, but the expense involved made these projects a low priority for the community.

On October 17, the Bay Area was buzzing about baseball. The Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants, both local teams, had reached the World Series. The first game of the series was scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park. Just prior to the game, with the cameras on the field, a 7.1-magnitude tremor centered near Loma Prieta Peak in the Santa Cruz Mountains rocked the region from Santa Cruz to Oakland. Though the stadium withstood the shaking, much of the rest of San Francisco was not so fortunate.

The city’s marina district suffered great damage. Built before 1972, on an area of the city where there was no underlying bedrock, the liquefaction of the ground resulted in the collapse of many homes. Burst gas mains and pipes also sparked fires that burned out of control for nearly two days. Also hard hit by the quake were two area roads, the Nimitz Expressway and the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

Both roads featured double-decker construction and, on each, the upper level collapsed during the earthquake. Forty-one of the 67 victims of this disaster were motorists on the lower level of the Nimitz, who were killed when the upper level of the road collapsed and crushed them in their cars. Only one person was killed on the Bay Bridge–which had been scheduled for a retrofitting the following week–because there were no cars under the section that collapsed.

Other heavily damaged communities included Watsonville, Daly City and Palo Alto. More than 10 percent of the homes in Watsonville were completely demolished. The residents, most of whom were Latino, faced additional hardship because relief workers and the Red Cross did not have enough Spanish-speaking aides or translators to assist them.

The earthquake caused billions of dollars in damages, and contributed in part to the deep recession that California suffered in the early 1990s.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Earthquake rocks San Francisco

The deadliest earthquake to hit the San Francisco area since 1906 strikes at 5:04 p.m. and lasts for 15 seconds. The quake measured 7.1 on the Richter scale, and its aftermath was witnessed on live television by millions of people watching the third game of the World Series of ...read more

Patriot victory at Saratoga

During the American Revolution, British General John Burgoyne surrenders 5,000 British and Hessian troops to Patriot General Horatio Gates at Saratoga, New York.In the summer of 1777, General Burgoyne led an army of 8,000 men south through New York State in an effort to join ...read more

OPEC enacts oil embargo

The Arab-dominated Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) announces a decision to cut oil exports to the United States and other nations that provided military aid to Israel in the Yom Kippur War of October 1973. According to OPEC, exports were to be reduced by 5 ...read more

Algerians massacred in Paris

Paris police massacre more than 200 Algerians marching in the city in support of peace talks to end their country’s war of independence against France.Tensions were running high in Paris at the time, with Algerian terrorists setting off bombs in the French capital and randomly ...read more

Capone goes to prison

On this day in 1931, gangster Al Capone is sentenced to 11 years in prison for tax evasion and fined $80,000, signaling the downfall of one of the most notorious criminals of the 1920s and 1930s.Alphonse Gabriel Capone was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1899 to Italian ...read more

President Johnson goes to Asia

President Johnson leaves Washington for a 17-day trip to seven Asian and Pacific nations and a conference scheduled in Manila.En route to Manila, Johnson visited New Zealand and Australia; in Melbourne, antiwar demonstrators heckled him. In Manila, he met with other Allied ...read more

Olympic protestors stripped of their medals

On October 17, 1968, Olympic gold medalist Tommie Smith and bronze medalist John Carlos are forced to return their awards because they raised their fists in a black-power salute during the medal ceremony. In a press conference the next day, International Olympic Committee ...read more

Nathanael West is born

Novelist Nathanael West, was born in New York to a family of Jewish immigrants on this day in 1903. He attended Brown University, then went to Paris to write for a year and a half, where he wrote his first novel, The Dream Life of Balso Snell (1931), about disgruntled characters ...read more

Benji debuts

On this day in 1974, Benji, a film about a stray dog who helps rescue several kidnapped children, opens in theaters; it will go on to become a family classic. Written and directed by Joe Camp, Benji starred a mutt named Higgins, who had been rescued as a puppy from a California ...read more

A shoemaker leads German soldiers in a robbery

Wilhelm Voigt, a 57-year-old German shoemaker, impersonates an army officer and leads an entire squad of soldiers to help him steal 4,000 marks. Voigt, who had a long criminal record, humiliated the German army by exploiting their blind obedience to authority and getting them to ...read more

U.S. aid to Contras signed into law

In a short-lived victory for the Nicaraguan policy of the Reagan administration, the President signs into law an act of Congress approving $100 million of military and “humanitarian” aid for the Contras. Unfortunately for Ronald Reagan and his advisors, the Iran-Contra scandal ...read more

Longstreet returns to command

On this day in 1864, Confederate General James Longstreet assumes command of his corps in Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia in May of that year, Longstreet missed the campaign for Richmond, Virginia,and spent five ...read more

OPEC states declare oil embargo

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) implements what it calls “oil diplomacy” on this day in 1973: It prohibits any nation that had supported Israel in its “Yom Kippur War” with Egypt, Syria and Jordan from buying any of the oil it sells. The ensuing ...read more