The 17th day of October 1989 was a sad one for San Francisco’s Bay area as it woke up to one of to one of the worst disasters in the history of California. The San Francisco earthquake also popularly referred to as Loma Prieta earthquake had claimed the lives of 67 people, injuring at least 3,800 others and causing property destruction in the tune of UD$6 billion. It would be ironical to say that the earthquake had done a relatively lesser damage which would be expected for a 6.9 magnitude quake. Prior to this earthquake, the state of California had experienced such magnitude of an earthquake in 1906 which claimed more than treble of the 1989 disaster. This paper will review the San Francisco Earthquake of 1989, giving all the aspects both during and post the disaster and conclude with the practical lesson learned.

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The Earthquake as it happened
The San Andreas Fault was the culprit to the occurrence of the earthquake as the epicentre was later narrowed down to the forest of Nisene Marks State Park, a stone throw distance from the Fault. The earthquake struck at 5.00 p.m. as crowds prepared to watch a baseball game feting San Francisco Giants versus the Oakland Athletics. It was a coincidence since all the cameras were live in readiness for the game and the entire incident was captured as it happened. Due to this coincidence, the earthquake was widely covered as it happened, and a quick reaction humanitarian reaction saved the affected masses. The earthquake which climaxed at a 6.9 Richter scale lasted for only a quarter a minute, and that is what it took for the damage to be done.

Argument why the damage was relatively small
As it was said earlier, it is ironical to say that a lesser damage was done, but this is what experts believe given the magnitude of the earthquake. Compared to other 6.9 magnitude earthquakes, the Loma Prieta Earthquake was way below the average damage level, and this can be attributed to a number of factors. One of the most fronted arguments is the fact that the earthquake only lasted for 15 seconds hence the lesser damage done. In other areas which have even experienced less strong earthquakes, the damage is more since the quakes usually last for longer durations. Another argument for the lesser damage is the fact that the bay area is not much of an earthquake volatile area, and the crust was able to mysteriously stand ground against the rather strong quake. Besides, the area is not heavily populated by the time of the quake which meant not so many people were within the affected area. Experts argued that the quake could have activated over 400 landslides and whatever prevented such an outcome is still referred to as good fortune. All the same, losing 67 lives and over 300, 000 injuries is not such a mean number.

The most affected Areas and Damage done
The Marina District was at the center of the activities and thus suffered the most damage compared to all other affected areas (Bootzin & Woods, 1992). Buildings and structures succumbed to the quake following the liquefaction of the ground which is geographically not founded on any sort of bedrock. Gas pipes busted, and the eventual fires caused more damage to the surviving structures which would have otherwise been salvaged. The collapsing of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge claimed 42 fatalities hence increasing the number of deaths which would only be a less than a dozen. Another adversely affected area was the Watsonville, a couple of miles from the quake’s hotbed, which saw most of its structures falling and significantly destroying the area’s infrastructure. Other significant life and property damages were reported in Santa Clara, Monterey, Santa Cruz and Alameda where old buildings caved in due to their weakened masonry reinforcement. In a nutshell, the Bay region’s transport and communication system was grounded at it took time before getting things back to normal.

The Aftermath
The baseball series which was right underway when the quake struck was postponed for 10 days and later renamed to ‘earthquake’ baseball series. A priority was given to the transport system since it was the sector which caused most of the fatalities as well as the destruction of billions of property. All the bridges in the area underwent seismic retrofitting so as to make them formidable in case of future quakes in the area. Thanks to the earthquake, old buildings were reinforced, and any future quakes would be handled better leading to fewer deaths, injuries and property damage.

Lessons from the Earthquake
There is quite a lot to be learned from the San Francisco-Oakland earthquake of 1989 so as to contain the damages from future quakes (National, 1994). Following the quake, prediction of the intensity and geographical position of the earthquakes was emphasized, and prone areas are now more prepared to withstand the impact. Building codes were standardized to limit the chances of structural damages which caused most of the deaths in the wake of the earthquake. These and more actions taken after the earthquake have been adopted by other earthquake-prone areas, and though there are hardly possible ways to prevent an earthquake, the damages are within manageable levels.

  • Bootzin, R. & Woods, J., (1992). Effects of the 1989 San Francisco earthquake on frequency
    and content of nightmares. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 101(2), 219.
  • National, R. C. G. B. (Ed.). (1994). Practical Lessons from the Loma Prieta Earthquake.
    Washington, DC, USA: National Academies Press.