Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search

California Rebuilds After Earthquake

A year after one of the worst earthquakes in US history, Californians are putting their lives and cities back together, though effects of the quake linger. First of two articles.

By Scott ArmstrongStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / October 16, 1990


IN his Tudor apartment in the fashionable Marina district, Louis Pare has bolted his bookshelves to the wall, taken most of his mirrors down, and stowed 40 gallons of water in a safe place. All are precautions in case the earth shifts again. ``Even a year later there are still effects on my family,'' says the concrete contractor of last year's earthquake. ``When our washing machine bounces and shakes the floor, everyone jumps.''

Skip to next paragraph

A year after one of the worst earthquakes in American history, the effects of the temblor can still be felt in both subtle and conspicuous ways.

For the vast majority of people in the region, life returned to normal not long after the 7.1 magnitude temblor struck. The wood-slat seats of the city's cable cars are once again full. It's hard to reserve a dining room at the upscale Blue Fox restaurant. Oakland is going through its annual preening - how many times has it been now? - over the Athletics going to the World Series.

But in the areas hardest hit by the quake, dramatic signs of how long it can take to regain economic and social equilibrium after such a disaster are evident:

The historic heart of Santa Cruz, which was devastated in the quake, remains largely in ruins. Chain-link fences cordon off several blocks, and holes exist where buildings once stood.

The shells of others sit eerily empty, as town officials go through the laborious process of planning and securing funds, businesses anguish over whether they want to rebuild, and preservationists and planners squabble over whether to repair or tear down buildings.

Plywood covers many storefronts in downtown Watsonville, an agricultural community close to the epicenter of the quake. While some reconstruction is under way, it will probably be several years before the main commercial district, ailing even before the earth moved, revives.

Merchants survive as best as they can in the interim. Norm Bucaloy, who has run a shoe-repair shop for 18 years, has seen business drop 50 percent since the quake. Still, ``we will live again,'' he says, ``I think.''

A cheer as prodigious as a Canseco home run went up when Oakland's only big downtown department store, the Emporium, reopened in August after repairs. Other key commercial buildings, though, remain empty and webbed with cracks.

Perhaps the ultimate symbol of the damage that endures in Oakland is City Hall. The imposing neoclassic building has been closed since the temblor, its cupola sheathed in scaffolding and its 1,000 workers scattered at desks around the city.

``Life is back to normal for most of the area because most of the area wasn't impacted,'' says Richard Eisner, director of the Bay Area Regional Earthquake Preparedness Project.

For others, ``what basically occurred in 10 seconds is not over in the first year and won't be for decades.''

The Loma Prieta earthquake occurred the evening of Oct. 17, during the World Series, which made it a prime-time event. Centered in the Santa Cruz mountains 60 miles southeast of here, it claimed the lives of 63 people, 42 of them in the collapse of part of Oakland's double-deck Nimitz Freeway, which has since been taken down.

Although most of the destruction from the quake was confined to localized areas, a testament in part to modern earthquake engineering, property losses have totaled $5.9 billion, making it the most expensive natural disaster in United States history.

That more of the major physical repairs aren't further along one year later is perhaps understandable. For the first few months after the quake, officials were preoccupied in dealing with the emergency. Since then, they have been working through the Byzantine process of seeking recovery funds, hiring endless engineers, and submitting countless estimates. There has also been a dose of politics.

San Franciscans debated for months over what to do with the damaged Embarcadero Freeway, a double-deck roadway that runs along part of the city's waterfront. Some thought it cheaper and better to repair it. Many wanted it down, even before the quake, because they consider it an eyesore.