Today, October 17, is the 29th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake, a 6.9 quake that killed 63 persons and injured 3,757. It was the first televised earthquake thanks to the World Series Game between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s. The national live television broadcast which just getting started. Rush-hour traffic on the Bay Area freeways was lighter than normal because the game was about to begin, and this may have prevented a larger loss of life, as several of the Bay Area’s major transportation structures suffered catastrophic failures. The collapse of a section of the double-deck Nimitz Freeway in Oakland was the site of the largest number of casualties for the event, but the collapse of man-made structures, a section of the Bay Bridge and other related accidents contributed to the casualties.
Are we ready for the next one? Good question…we are likely better prepared than we were then but we still have many areas for improvement (for all sectors – public, private and citizens) . And what about the recovery? It is truly impressive and teaches is all another lesson about vision and the willingness to see things differently. San Francisco responded to the setbacks with an audacity that in hindsight is profound — from then-mayor Art Agnos persuading fellow politicians to tear down the quake damaged Embarcadero Freeway and allow the waterfront to bloom, to the use of federal repair funds as the down payment for eye-popping restorations of such then-faded landmarks as City Hall and the Opera House.
The waterfront became alive and the City was born again. That of course doesn’t happen with all large disasters – Loma Prieta is a good example of how vision and leadership can truly make the difference in recovery.