Where were you?

We all have those moments in our sub-conscious. The Attack on Pearl Harbor, The Kennedy Assassination, The Day Lennon Died, The Attack on 9/11. Those are days of mass consciousness. Everyone can recall where they were, what they were doing.

For people in the San Francisco Bay Area such a day is October 17, 1989. The Loma Prieta Earthquake. Yesterday was the 21st anniversary and a local Tweeter was asking “What were you doing?”


I was pregnant with my now Army Private son. I was home alone with my daughter because my husband was away in Sacramento for training. Before everyone had a cell phone it was impossible to get hold of him. He had a work pager but all the phone lines were not working. I was totally stressed. We hadn’t been married long and in many ways I was still a child, not capable of adult thoughts and behavior. I laugh now at the girl I was then.

We had been watching the World Series with San Francisco and Oakland and eating dinner. The door was open to the garage because it was such a hot day. We wanted to catch any breeze we could. The ground rumbled and rolled beneath our feet like a wave on the beach. The garage door opened swung so violently I was afraid it would land on the car in the garage. Outside I could see cars bouncing on the street.

When the television finally came back on we could see the devastation of the Nimitz Freeway. Two levels of highway pancaked into less than one. We knew we had been lucky to live in the East Bay and only feel a portion of what they got in the city.

Once my husband got the news he rushed home, only to immediately rush to work as a State Police Officer. We didn’t see him again for many hours and only a few hours for quite a few days to come.

I had nightmares for quite a while after seeing the destroyed freeway and the missing portion of the Bay Bridge. We refused to go over that bridge for a long time after it was repaired.

In writing you have to remember that your characters have lived through events too. Think of what they felt, how they dealt with it, and how it affects how they deal with life now. Characters are people too.

What world, countrywide, or local event affected you deeply?

Jill James


10 thoughts on “Where were you?

  1. i remember that earth quake also even in red bluff we felt it not as bad as you but still felt it..and i remember trying for hours maybe even days to find out if patrick was ok.seeing the scenes on tv and wondering if any of our loved ones or friends where there ..

    • Debbie, we have a friend who got the medal of valor from the governor for being one of the first responders to and inside the crushed Nimitz freeway. It was a scary time, wondering how everyone was and where they were.

  2. Hi Jill. I have to say that here in the South, I haven’t heard about the earthquake you experienced in 1989. We generally don’t have those, but we do get alot of floods. . .

    • Tonya, a flood would be pretty scary. Watching the water just get higher and higher. Although there was a bad earthquake in, I think 1912, in the midwest and the Mississippi River flowed badwards because of damage.

  3. I was in San Jose during the quake. I thought my house was going to shake apart. I just screamed and screamed for my kids to get in the front door threshold. The cabinets flew open and dishes were flying out, as my daughter tried to dodge them. It was so loud, you could hear it coming, it sounded a like a train, and when it hit it felt like a train going through my house.
    The aftermath was pretty intense, we had no power for days, or a phone. I have no family in the area, so it was me and my kids, BBQing everything in the freezer for days…It was a life changing experience…To this day, I still jump when the ground shakes, and my heart stops. It takes me several minutes to catch my breath, and get my heart to settle down.

    • It must have been closer to the fault line in San Jose. Can’t imagine no power for days. Usually we are so lucky in California with our nice weather and don’t get the big floods, tornados, hurricanes, or snowstorms to lose power.

  4. We lived in the Santa Cruz Mountains right on the edge of the fault line and it was incredibly intense. My school was on the fault line and was closed (several schools were closed) due to structural damage.

    TV was on with the world series, but we were all just getting ready to head out. I remember sitting in a bean bag chair tieing my shoes when it hit. My dad jumped on top of my to protect me and our house just rolled and shook like we were on the ocean. The noise was incredible. I’d already been through several earthquakes before that, but this is the only one I really remember being super loud. No electricity for at least a week as I recall. Several houses in our neighborhood were red tagged. Luckily ours wasn’t and we only had broken brick a brack and a retaining wall that fell down. My mom worked and I went to school in Loma Prieta and with 17 shut down with all the holes that appeared we had to take back mountain roads that doubled the commute for several months.

Comments are closed.