This devastating 6.9-magnitude earthquake rocked Northern California on Oct. 17, 1989, with the Bay Area and Central Coast bearing the brunt of the impact. The epicenter was approximately 8 miles north-northeast of Santa Cruz and 50 miles from downtown San Francisco. The quake lasted 15 seconds and struck during the peak of evening rush hour. The resulting catastrophic damage and loss of life forever changed the landscape, infrastructure and people of the Golden State.
Now, 30 years later, we reflect on this historic event, the mammoth recovery effort launched by the Red Cross and partner agencies and how our communities can prepare for the next major disaster.
A Red Cross worker provides meals to people near the site of the Cypress Street Viaduct of the Nimitz Freeway Interstate 880 in Oakland, California during the aftermath of the Loma Prieta earthquake.
At a Red Cross shelter in California, people sit and talk.
In San Francisco, California, the Loma Prieta earthquake caused extensive damage to homes, cars and other personal property.
"It was a real pinnacle moment for me. That's when I decided to seriously consider public safety as a profession. I saw first-hand what public service really means."
Santa Cruz Deputy Chief of Police Rick Martinez describing his experience helping the recovery effort following the earthquake. Read Rick’s story here.
“When I decided to help my community after the earthquake, it was an act of love. That remains very true today.”
Patsy Gasca, Red Cross Disaster Program Manager for Santa Cruz County. The day of the earthquake, she joined other volunteers to help those in need. Read Patsy’s story here.
“As the (days after the earthquake) progressed and the city building inspectors started red tagging buildings, our shelter populations increased day after day after day. It was this constantly escalating disaster, which is unlike many disasters. Often, you’ll have a flood, a hurricane, or a tornado where the damage is done. With (Loma Prieta), it just kept coming and coming and coming.”
“I was in downtown Oakland at a meeting with the head of Office of Emergency Services when the earthquake hit. We were there on the street together and we started the (disaster response) right then and there. It was a scary time but an exciting time (when) we could be of service to the community.”
“We were able to get shelters open that night, we were able to get meals out; we were able to take care of the needs of people. I was so proud of what our local volunteers could do – I’d never seen anything like that. I knew what we did for (responding to) home fires, but I’d never seen anything this big.”
Lisa Bennett, Disaster Services Executive Director, on the pace and scale of the Red Cross response in the hours after the earthquake. Watch her full comments here.
“The most vivid memory for me was coming back to the Bay Area; I’d seen the pictures (of the damage) and I was able to get over to the Marina. (The buildings) were down at 45-degree angles. It brought it home how awful it was for so many people. A picture just doesn’t quite do it justice.”
Former disaster responder Craig Knudson on witnessing the damage first-hand in San Francisco’s Marin District. Watch his full comments here.
“It took me a few days before I was able to get out and see the damage. The Cypress Structure was pretty sobering. I have much respect for the Mass Care and Damage Assessment teams who out there on the streets everyday with people.”
Former Disaster Director Jim Aldrich, who was deployed to the East Bay arm of the Red Cross recovery effort during the Loma Prieta response.
The Red Cross Response
Nearly 15,000 families needed immediate disaster assistance. Culturally-diverse communities – 57 different languages spoken by victims – created additional challenges for Red Cross workers.
In total, 45 shelters were opened to house nearly 65,000 people – speaking 57 different languages – during the course of the relief effort.
Nearly 643,000 meals were served in shelters or mobile feeding vans.
Nearly 23,400 homes were surveyed for earthquake damage.
750,000 pounds of blankets, food and clothing were distributed to nearly 15,000 families.
43 Red Cross vehicles served 20,000 meals per day to victims and emergency workers.
More than 7,800 Red Cross workers helped with the relief effort, nearly 7,300 of which were volunteers.
$24.5 million was spent on providing for immediate needs during the relief organization. Another $40.3 million was dedicated to Long-Term Disaster Recovery.
Nearly 6,500 inquiries from relatives to immediate family members in the affected area were received and fulfilled.
More than 8,600 people were treated by Red Cross disaster health services.
Scenes from the Loma Prieta Earthquake
Destruction from Monterey to Oakland
Disasters Can Strike at Any Time: Get Prepared, Stay Prepared!
It’s not just California – 45 U.S. states are at risk for an earthquake. Click here to learn how to prepare your family for an earthquake.