22 October 2009

The Day the World shook...part 4...

From the Citizen Soldier side: On with the 89' Earthquake story. (Check http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1989_Loma_Prieta_earthquake for more info.)

As we rolled our convoy of 5 ton dump trucks, jeeps (yes, we still had jeeps then) and heavy equipment towards the Santa Cruz area, I was learning how to operate the truck. By the time we arrived at some kind of church retreat facility, we were all tired, but still ready to do anything to help. All we really knew about the damage was what we'd heard on radios since we hadn't seen a TV in days.

We knew dozens of people had been killed and many had lost homes. This was what the Army National Guard was for---to help citizens in a disaster, and this was a big one.

We got to the church retreat and were given rooms to sleep in...ours had big cracks in the wall (I heard a few months later most of the buildings we'd been staying in were condemned and torn down.) The electricity worked and the rooms had heat, that's all we cared about because it was cold and raining as it often does in the Santa Cruz mountains in the Fall and Winter.

We went to a local restaurant for chow and went to sleep in our rooms. The next day we got up at 0500 hours, went to that same restaurant and then headed to what was at the time Highway 17. Our first mission was to help clear the road of mud, rock and other debris. Most of us had very little to no experience operating the trucks and equipment in anything other than a training environment....so this was a challenge that we all actually enjoyed.
Some guys from the county and State came to where we were. They had heard that we were a "Combat Engineer" company, but they said that they had no idea what we could do. When they saw all our equipment, they were very happy. An artillery unit had shown up a few days before, but all they could do was blow shit up.

The only other government folks in the area of Highway 17 happened to be a bunch of Marines and Navy folks who'd come ashore to help. They were directing traffic on the now one lane highway...they'd been doing it for days and were very happy we'd shown up to fix the road. Up to that point, nobody had started to do anything to clear the road or fix anything.

The first day clearing the road, I was driving a truck. I made several hauls of rock and mud and was happy to be helping. The problem we were having was, the sergeant they had put in charge of organizing the trucks and heavy equipment to clear the road was really needed to operate some of the heavy equipment, so they pulled me out of my truck and had me in charge of the trucks and loaders on the road. (I was only a Spec 4)

There were so many aftershocks hitting the area that we thought the hillside was going to come down on us several times. Let me explain the aftershocks. If you look up the weekly earthquakes in CA on the USGS web site, you'll see that we have dozens in CA every week. Most are under a "2" on the scale and we don't even notice them. When a shake is over "3" we do notice and most of the aftershocks were over "3". After the first few days we got so used to the shaking, that we laughed at it.

Still, when a shake hit while we were clearing highway 17, we'd look for big rocks and stuff coming down off the hill. Several times I had to jump out of the way of big rocks.

After we had been clearing that highway for a few days, some expert from the State came out. He told us that it was totally unsafe for us to be working on that road because the hillside was so unstable. Great. So we went over and started to clear debris from another area whilst the State "experts" figured out what we should be doing. It was now about a week after the big quake and the State and counties still had no friggen' idea what we should be doing.

To be cont.


Kanani said...

I've noticed a lot of small earthquakes lately.
Anyway, we were without power for a day or two. I remember a lot of the houses lost their chimneys, too. And then SF-Oakland Bay bridge --egads. As well as that double level freeway that went down.

I didn't venture down 17 for awhile. But I remember that much of Ben Lomand was hit really bad.

Coffeypot said...

On the whole, isn't it safer to be outside during a quake? I mean you may have to dodge rocks and stuff, but the biggest thing to me is having good old solid Tara Firma moving under your feet.

CI-Roller Dude said...

Thank God for the internet, none of us took cameras with us on that adventure....of course they didn't have digital cameras in those days either....dang them days were different.
It is safer to be outside in an earthquake unless that happens to be on the side of an unstable hill that'd getting soaked with rain and aftershocks...mudslides, telephone poles, rocks mud and shit we couldn't even figure out what it was as it rolled past us.

solfine said...

Hi CI,
Thanks for the link.Really solved my problem.
The stuff about the Artillery unit made me recall about sending an Artillery unit to drain a swamp.
Very funny.
Interesting because I was a T4 in the 1st Special Engineer Brigade.
Liked the music and you Style.

Anonymous said...

Glad you're quick on your feet...falling rocks hurt, Dude.

...ok hurry up and continue the story now before another rock falls!

Kanani said...

Yeah, we still did film and those little disposable cameras! And the primary means of communication was the phone ...at home!

I remember having to BBQ all the meat in the freezer because it was all thawing. We had a huge cook out, with many of the students. I wasn't that scared mainly because I'd been through the Whittier Narrows quake prior. So I had the earthquake kit (that I'd brought with us when we moved), and everything I needed was in there.

But we were VERY lucky. Those people in Ben Lomand lost their homes, as did several in Oakland and The Marina.

Kanani said...

Oh....be sure to swing by Monday and Tuesday. I'm having a give away. Joe Cool has donated a meditation kit to go with my weekly yoga column (I can't help it... I am a native Californian!).