OAKLAND, Calif. (KRON) — Oct. 17, 1989 — a date many in the Bay Area will never forget. Monday marks 33 years since the Loma Prieta Earthquake shook the region, killing more than 60 people and injuring more than 3,000 others.
The Loma Prieta Earthquake caused billions of dollars in damage to the region.
But a retired USGS scientist says because of the quake, a tremendous amount of work has been done to strengthen the infrastructure with new bridges, freeway overpasses and improving the water system.
“It was a shock to the Bay Area,” said USGS geologist David Schwartz. “There was a real air of complacency.”
The earthquake caught the public and even the science community off guard.
When Schwartz joined the USGS in 1985, he says the focus was on the San Andreas Fault in Southern California. The Bay Area hadn’t seen a major quake since the 7.9 San Francisco Earthquake in 1906.
“The Bay Area was basically an afterthought,” Schwartz said.
That changed after Loma Prieta. The 6.9 magnitude quake — destroying bridges and leveling homes and buildings. Sixty-three people died and more than 3,000 were injured. The shaking lasted an agonizing 15 seconds.
“The shake was terrible. I’m a native Californian and grew up here in Southern California and up here I’ve been through a lot of earthquakes before but this was really different from other ones and it was scary,” said Neal Coonerty who is the owner of Bookshop Santa Cruz.
Coonerty’s shop is close to the epicenter of the quake. His business and much of Pacific Avenue were in ruins.
“This is the tent that we worked in for three years right after our building got destroyed,” Coonerty said.
The bookshop is a rebuilding and thriving business.
“We had 400 people come put on hard hats and carry all those books out there, so we can keep going,” Coonerty said.
The days of Loma Prieta are now just memories adorning the walls of his bookshop. About 30 years later, scientists are confident that Loma Prieta has better prepared the Bay Area for the next big quake.
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“There is a much better understanding on how the ground shakes when a large earthquake occurs and that goes into the building codes and building codes are constantly being improved,” Schwartz said.
While communities reflect on Loma Prieta, it’s also about looking ahead to the next big earthquake and the message about being prepared.