Earthquake Readiness: How the San Franciso 1989 Quake Shook Awareness

The 1989 earthquake that shook San Francisco sent out a wake up call that continues to echo across the country.

On October 17, 1989, the opening jolt of a major American earthquake was broadcast on live TV. Suddenly and without warning, viewers tuning into the third installment of the 1989 World Series heard the pre-game banter of the ABC sportscaster cease. The images of San Francisco’s Candlestick Park crackled and disappeared.

Registering 6.9 on the Richter scale, Northern California’s Loma Prieta Earthquake left 63 people dead, more than 3,700 injured and as many as 10,000 homeless. Coverage of the collapsed deck on the Oakland Bay Bridge, a demolished Interstate 880 overpass and a raging fire in San Francisco’s Marina District dominated front pages and prime-time newscasts for days. As the extent of the quake’s estimated $10 billion in damage became clear, a chorus of voices across the country called for more wide-ranging precautions to prepare for bigger earthquakes down the road. The alarms sounded far beyond California. Leaders in potential fault zones from Oregon to Missouri pledged to get ready.

But how much preparing really got done after the panic died down?

  • Producer: Erik German
  • Editor: Kristen Nutile