SAN FRANCISCO — ONE week after the second-most catastrophic quake in United States history, Shereen Pavone has put away her Hank Roberts Mark III butane stove. Ms. Pavone and her three-year-old daughter, Bettina, have also stopped sleeping in the living room because it is closer to the door. And they have stopped using the portable potty usually taken just on camping trips.
On Pavone's side of Chestnut Street here in the waterfront Marina District - the area most decimated by last Tuesday's 6.9 quake - life is pushing the envelope of normalcy: plumbing and lights work, some gas heat still out.
With 85 percent of this city back to normal, the Marina District has become San Francisco's mettle-testing ground examining whether short-term coping can be turned into long-term rebound.
On the other side of Chestnut, 10-or-so blocks of upscale homes are cordoned off with yellow-cellophane police lines, and a bureaucratic tale of Kafka-esque proportions seems under way.
White and pink notices taped to each residence and business intone ominously: ``Warning this structure has been seriously damaged and is unsafe. Do not enter. Entry may result in death or injury.'' Or, there is: ``Limited entry. Off limits to unauthorized personnel.'' Further notices declare: ``Do not drink tap water. Do not cook with tap water until further notice.''
Armed with green, yellow, and red admission notices - retrieved after hours of standing in line at the local middle school - residents still must scurry past police cordons to reach their homes. With little access, no power, no lights, no personal vehicles, an eerie quiet prevails. Some question structural ratings placed on their homes by city public-works assessors and are hiring their own.
The drama of removing belongings in the allotted time (green permit, unlimited access; yellow, 15 minutes; red, no entry) has graduated to discussions of who will leave, who will rebuild. ``Do you think the US government is going to give a $100,000 loan to a 72-year-old woman with no relatives and small pension?'' asks one man, sitting in a Red Cross counseling center.
``We've gotten notice that our building is to be demolished,'' he says, adding that he and a friend have been given 15 minutes to rush in and grab a change of clothes. ``What would you do?''
Up and down Divisadero Street, residents and business owners share personal tales, speculating about when the estimated 21 buildings will be bulldozed, and wondering what will happen to the 147 others declared unsafe.
Access to buildings has been the most vexing issue. The threat of aftershocks, or collapse, has forced officials to make quick assessments in the interest of safety for residents and relief workers. Many hope a reassessment will enable them to salvage property.
``I'm taking everything in case I can't get back in,'' said Daniel Maurin, loading clothes into a car. The ``No Entry'' notice on his apartment building door was accompanied by an official in fatigues who kicked his door open and told him to get out.
``We've had to treat tenants seriously for their own good,'' says one policeman, defending his colleague's SWAT tactics. ``We've let people in and found them later pinned down by their refrigerators - this is not a comic situation.''
Evacuated tenants may have it easier than building owners. Ralph Dayan does not live in the Marina District, but recently purchased a building here with a $1.5 million loan.
``No one will ever want to buy this building now,'' he says, even though precautions he took before the quake prevented most structural damage. A 25-year resident of San Francisco, Mr. Dayan and his wife, Sarah, plan to stay.
``I will remain here, and my tenants will return, and life will be back to normal,'' he says. ``If not sooner, then later.''