Riding an Earthquake


buildingTwenty-five years ago on October 17, 1989, my daughter and I were out riding our horses when the great Loma Prieta earthquake hit the San Francisco Bay Area. One of the most destructive quakes in California history, it knocked down part of a freeway, collapsed a section of the Bay Bridge, destroyed numerous houses and killed 69 people while we never FELT a thing.

It was a lovely fall afternoon as we saddled our horses and prepared to go for a ride. The ranch where we kept them was in a rural area south of San Jose and, it turned out, not far from the quake epicenter. They say animals frequently act peculiarly before a quake but ours seemed fine. However, as we left the property I glanced back and was astounded to see a horse rear up, go over backward and actually fall over his paddock fence. Several people rushed to get him, so we continued on our way scratching our heads aridingt the bizarre incident. Something really scary had to have happened to make a horse do that.

A few minutes later we were riding through a small valley and approaching an old orchard. My daughter was in the lead. Suddenly the abandoned school/farm worker bus ahead of us started shaking. My immediate thought was that was a dangerous place for kids to be playing. Then a giant roar of wind swept through the orchard and over us and both horses spun for home. I held my jittering mare in place while my daughter’s horse tried to climb on top of us. The hills around us seemed to move up and down in slow waves, then roar of wind swept over again from the opposite direction. Quiet returned except for an air raid siren wailing in the distance.

We had no idea what had just happened. I’ve lived most of my life in California but I had never been outside when a quake hit before, so I didn’t know what it was like. We had quakes all the time and they were no big deal. The siren made me wonder if one of the test rockets at the nearby UTC facility had blown up. The horses calmed down, so we continued on our way. A few minutes later the trail went behind some houses and we found a woman in her backyard having hysterics. That’s when we discovered it was an earthquake not an explosion, so we turned back.

crushed carWhen we got back to the stable people were huddled around a car, listening to the radio describe all the destruction, while the ranch was untouched. We put away the horses and hurried home, keeping our fingers crossed. Earthquakes send out waves of energy. When they come close to the surface they do the most damage. Our house appeared to have been passed by the deep part of the wave and while it was shaken there was little damage. You could see the direction of the energy by the way the water had gushed over the long ends of our pool and direction the living room étagère had tilted. Luckily the piano had caught the shelves and nothing had broken. Our only casualty was a figurine that had fallen in my daughter’s bedroom.

We spent that night glued to the TV and radio while the Bay Area tried to sort itself out. San Francisco, unfortunately, got caught by the upper part of the wave and was hit hard. It’s a bizarre experience to listen to all the turmoil going on in an area less than an hour away while your life is going on as normal. It was even more bizarre to have watched the hills dance.

How about you? Have you had experience with disasters?


Building photo credit: Creative Commons http://tinyurl.com/kkvzq8v

Horses photo credit: Creative Commons http://tinyurl.com/kjcgxl2

Crushed car photo credit: Creative Commons http://tinyurl.com/mynfnbr

Categories: adventure, destruction, earthquakes, Horses, Loma Prieta earthquake, riding, San Francisco, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 19 Comments

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19 thoughts on “Riding an Earthquake

  1. vicki

    Hi, Kate! OMG, this is so scary for your part of the U.S. I, on the other hand, get to experience tornado activity occasionally. I’ve never *been* in one. Mostly limb, roof, etc, damage. The worst thing recently was baseball sized hail. Slate roofs demolished. Cars looked like they’d had a sledgehammer taken to them. Trees stripped of leaves. It began with the small pea size, then a pause (which we know more can be coming), then larger, pause, larger, and then the big stuff. Fortunately, no one severely hurt.

    • The funny thing is that small quakes happen daily and big ones very rarely, so they aren’t half as scary to me as tornadoes and hurricanes which are frequent visitors. Flying into Miami when a hurricane was possible was a lot more frightening. And the tornado devastation we see on TV makes me question why any one would live there.
      So I guess every place has problems. 🙂

  2. What an experience! I was nowhere near there, but just remember the World Series got interrupted. Winds and tornados are what I’ve been through. And a VERY tiny earthquake in Detroit that most people didn’t feel.

  3. Oh, wow, Kate! I can hardly image seeing hills dancing. That must have been so frightening. I’ve been on the outskirts of some pretty mean tropical storms, but the scariest experience with weather was once when my sister and I were driving across North Dakota. Black clouds came in so fast, we hadn’t had time to pull over of think of what we were driving into. I was helping my sister with her loaded car, hauling a boat with even more of her things in it. Hail started to pound the car, then the rain started to come at us horizontally, and we finally found an overpass to park under. I’ll never forget the eerie horizon–black clouds all around except for that green horizon and a blurry thing moving around in all that green. I didn’t think it was a tornado, because in all the images I’d seen they didn’t look like the big blurry thing I saw. The storm pounded the car, stole a windshield wiper–sucked it off, and stole a few other items of my sister’s, but then was gone. We drove a few more hours, shaky, then finally stopped for gas. Only then did we hear that, yes, it had been a huge tornado we’d driven around.

    • Good thing you were able to get under that overpass! Probably helped some. What an experience. Oddly enough CA has had a few tornadoes in recent years. Don’t remember hearing about any before. Did some significant damage, but probably not anything to compare to what happens in the Midwest. Glad you got out okay.

  4. I have lived through the June 8, 1966 tornado in Topeka Kansas. I was 10 years old. We didn’t have a lot of damage around our house, but we had lots and lots of debris. The cellar we were in had a tree next to it and if it had been a few feet over to the north, we wouldn’t have been able to get out. Other parts of Topeka was hit very hard. If I remember correctly there was about one million dollars in damage.
    At least in a tornado you can get out of harms way, in an earthquake not so much. I cannot imagine being in one. I am glad you didn’t have too much damage and you were safe while riding.

    • Wow, that tornado must have been something. Agreed you can get out of the way, but they tend to happen a lot – yearly. Big quakes that do significant damage are big news because they happen so rarely. I wonder if we compared damages which would be worse.

      • You could probably find something online about the 66 tornado. Topeka, Kansas 1966 Tornado. The pictures are really impressive. Not sure if that’s the right word in this case. Earthquakes can cause an awful amount of damage. Look at the Tsunami it caused in the Philippines.

  5. A small earthquake. I was sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, in Pennsylvania, and the chairs were vibrating. My mind quickly gave me explanations, but when it continued I realized it was an earthquake. My first and only. 🙂

  6. I traveled quite a bit in Greece, Turkey and Japan, during the 1980’s and 90’s, and while I experienced several light ones in Japan, I was very surprised to do so a year or so later when in bed at my home in Summit NJ. It was the shaking of the bed that woke me up and then there was the sound of wind rushing by the windows!

    • Again a quake in an unusual place. Here in CA we have huge platonic action that seems to provoke the quakes. I wonder what causes them in PA and NJ.

      I’ve been awakened by the bed shaking too, but what is really unnerving is when the window beside the bed starts flexing back and forth.

  7. That sounds so scary, Kate! Glad you were okay! My family is originally from California, and I vividly remember watching the turmoil on the news from where we lived in Arkansas. So strange to imagine the hills dancing.

  8. Kate,
    My friends lived in that building in the picture and it brought back memories. They lost everything. We were luckier and lived in the middle of the block. Thanks so much for sharing your story. I loved it.

    • Glad you did okay. It was a scary time to be in San Francisco, for sure.
      And now they’re saying that four area faults are ready to pop. Keep our fingers crossed.

  9. I have been in a tornado, a very large one in Wichita Falls, TX in 1970. I have been in floods. My house burned to the ground. I have experienced straight line winds, where I now live in WV. Very bad. Lots of wind and downed trees. My lane was blocked off. A neighbor cleared that, but the next lane was blocked, we went through another neighbor’s pasture field. I helped The Salvation Army give out hot dinners. We took them to remote areas as well as town. Lots of people effected. I was in an earthquake (a tremor) in WV. We were in the doctor’s office on the 4th floor of a large building. There’s a fault that runs through WV and OH. Probably a few other things if I would take the time to think harder. LOL Cher’ley

    • Okay you have my one tornado beat! But, one disaster in my lifetime is more than enough! Glad you survived all of yours. And thank you for helping the Salvation Army.

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