San Francisco Giants

“It Sounded Like A Bomb Went Off” — The 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake in Pictures

Video footage from the NBC Bay Area vault also bears testimony to the frantic moments during and after the temblor

Tom Brokaw getting ready to go on TV on a dark sidewalk in the Marina District, the now-iconic corner of Beach and Divisadero, entire sections of the Cypress viaduct and the Bay Bridge unhinged and the KGO radio towers bent in half — these are just few of the images from the deadly M6.9 earthquake that shook the San Francisco and Monterey bay areas on Oct. 17, 1989.

The U.S. Geological Survey published 103 photographs from the aftermath of the Loma Prieta quake — named after the Loma Prieta peak, the earthquake’s epicenter in the Santa Cruz Mountains — on their website in 1999, hoping to give people a sense of the chaos and destruction that ultimately took 63 lives and closed the Bay Bridge for a month after its eastern span collapsed.

Video footage from the NBC Bay Area vault also bears testimony to the frantic moments during and after the temblor.

The video shows then-KNTV reporters Laura Zimmerman and Rob Fladeboe in 1990, looking back at those 15-seconds that changed the Bay Area forever.

“A full year after the quake it’s hard to shake that memory,” Zimmerman says as video footage shows children, women and men scrambling to safety in classrooms, playgrounds, offices and shopping malls.

The quake struck at the most unsuspecting of times — the once-in-a-lifetime Bay Area World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s. The crowds at Candlestick Park were in a party mood and the first pitch was less than 30 minutes away. And then it hit: there’s a loud sound and the camera turns blurry — chaos, confusion and panic take over and people immediately start running.

“My bike started rocking back and forth and I stopped, and I saw all the lights shaking,” one survivor told KNTV.

“It sounded like a bomb went off,” another said.

As Zimmerman put it, the earthquake was frightening, but the images that followed were horrifying. Images poured in from San Francisco to Salinas — downtown Santa Cruz saw its mall collapsing, and storefronts caving in. The USGS archives show entire blocks of Watsonville blocked off — in one photo, a huge crack is visible down the front of Ford’s Department Store.

In San Francisco’s Marina District, “buildings are toppled and strewn like a child’s toy — the stinging smell of natural gas fills the air and 20 minutes later, huge flames fill the darkening sky,” Fladeboe reported. “The fire wipes out much of a city block.”

More photos show residents camping in their yards after the quake, buildings getting red-tagged and restored Victorians crumbling to the ground.

Thousands faced “homelessness and life in limbo,“ in Zimmerman’s words.

The search for survivors lasted a week.

How much do you remember about Oct. 17, 1989, 5:04 p.m.? Tell us on Twitter and Facebook and in your comments below.

Information from KNTV's "Loma Prieta Quake Special" Part 1 was included in this article.

Contact Us