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    Miracle at Candlestick

    2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in Northern California. The 6.9 temblor was responsible for 63 deaths and 3757 injuries. According to geologists, it is only a matter of time before another “Big One” happens in California, so it is important to learn from such past events in order to brace for future quakes.

    Massive earthquakes may not be in the distant future either, considering that on last Tuesday alone, California experienced six quakes with a magnitude of 3.5 or greater. The powerful 7.1 shaker in Ridgecrest struck less than a month ago, followed by extensive aftershocks.

    The Loma Prieta earthquake, however, left a lasting mark on San Francisco. The quake struck at 5:04 pm on October 17, and many across the nation virtually experienced it in real time.

    That’s because there was already excitement among sports fans, with the World Series involving a rare matchup between the American League champion Oakland Athletics and the National League champion San Francisco Giants. (In 1913, the crosstown rivals, who were then the Philadelphia Athletics and the New York Giants, competed against each other in another World Series.)

    Potential for Perfect Storm at Candlestick

    Jorge Costa, now Senior Vice President of Ballpark Operations with the Giants, had worked as a liaison for Commissioner Peter Ueberroth handling stadium operations and security, and served as Chief of Operations at the Oakland Coliseum. Given his expertise, he was brought into the high-profile Oakland-San Francisco World Series games.

    “I remember that October 17th day like it was yesterday,” he told the San Francisco Bay Times. “It was very hot and there was tremendous energy in the air due to the game. I had butterflies even before the earthquake struck.”

    When the shaker did hit, “it seemed to last a very long time,” he recalled, thinking of the swaying tiers and loud noise. In reality, the earthquake had a duration of 15 seconds. “An evacuation video had remarkably just played on the scoreboard, which flashed three dots before the power went out. Initially, some people ran out of the park screaming, but overall it was more of a dissipation rather than an evacuation.”

    “I remember watching a guy (worker) who had climbed on a light tower attempting to untangle some wind socks,” he added. “I was worried about his safety, but he was okay.”

    Photo Credit: Dennis Desprois – San Francisco Giants

    Critical Decisions

    Costa recalled that people were still entering the sold-out stadium while he, Commissioner Fay Vincent and other officials met on the field to discuss what to do next. Without more modern forms of power systems and communication networks, they had no idea that a 50-foot section of the Bay Bridge had just collapsed, as had a double-decker freeway in Oakland. They also did not realize that fires had erupted in the Marina District and elsewhere.

    Even so, a decision was made to postpone the game, requiring that the enormous amount of traffic be turned around—and with no working public address system to convey the information to the 62,000 or so fans. The officials had to think quickly.

    Costa partnered with Commander Isiah Nelson III of the San Francisco Police Department. “An announcement was written on the hood of a police car,” Costa said. “It read that the game had been ‘postponed due to a temporary power disruption.’ The car drove around and that’s how people received the news. We have a display highlighting this now at The Vault at Oracle.”

    “Commander Nelson was such a special, humble person,” Costa said, adding that Nelson radiated “calm and leadership” that proved to be invaluable on that day. Tragically, Nelson died in a motorcycle crash just a year later. He was just 36 years old and was survived by his wife and two sons.

    Jorge Costa

    Three Men and a Camera

    Most of the baseball fans calmly exited the stadium after the initial shock, although at least one woman required treatment for a panic attack. When Costa himself walked out, he encountered ESPN’s Chris Berman and a cameraman. ESPN had a generator set up so the network was able to continue its coverage.

    The three men wound up spending many more hours at the site. “I’m still in contact with Chris to this day,” Costa said.

    Costa did not get home until 4 am the next day. His fiancé, originally from Ohio and only in the Bay Area for a year, had previously found out about Costa’s status, not from him, but from her sister who was watching ESPN. Even the day after the earthquake was full of work drama for Costa, who had to make his way—by candlelight—to a meeting upstairs at the Westin St. Francis hotel.

    A decision was made to resume on October 27 what was once called the “Bay Bridge Series” and now called the “Earthquake Series.” The matchup proved to be a washout for the Giants, with the A’s winning in a 4-game sweep.

    Urgency to Strengthen Infrastructure

    Although the “Stick” suffered damage during the earthquake, it largely stood strong and remained open until August 14, 2014. Many people at the time praised the Stick’s sturdiness.

    There was a new sense of urgency, though, to safeguard infrastructure. After shorter term fixes, San Francisco voters in 1997 approved a $100 million bond toward the construction of a new stadium on the Candlestick site. It was repealed, however, since both the Giants and the 49ers decided to scrap the original plan. Pacific Bell Park (now Oracle Park) opened on April 11, 2000, as the new home for the Giants. Levi’s Stadium broke ground on April 19, 2012, becoming the new home for the 49ers.

    Costa said that back in the Stick’s day, quick-drying cement wasn’t around, so that material helped to improve construction efforts and subsequent needed repairs. Earthquake drills now happen more regularly. There are backup power systems. The internet and cell phones help to strengthen communication for all.

    What to Do in a Stadium During an Earthquake

    According to ShakeOutBC, you should follow these tips if you find yourself in a stadium or theater during an earthquake:

    • Stay at your seat or drop to the ground between rows. This makes you a smaller target for falling or flying debris and makes it less likely that the earthquake will knock you over.
    • Protect your head and neck with your arms, and bend over as far as possible to protect your vital organs.
    • If possible, hold on by gripping the leg of a chair with one arm, keeping the other over your head and neck.
    • Close your eyes and mouth to protect from dust and debris. Stay in this position until the shaking stops. Do not try to move until you’re sure the shaking has stopped.
    • When the shaking is over, count to 60 then slowly look around to ensure it is safe to move.

    Relive Loma Prieta, Prepare for the Next Shaker

    The California Academy of Sciences at Golden Gate Park features “The Shake House,” which is a recreation of a dining room of a Victorian-era “Painted Lady” house. Those aged 4 and over may enter The Shake House to experience both the sustained tremors of the 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake and the devastating 7.9 1906 quake.

    Watch (or re-watch) KGO’s coverage of the 1989 World Series as it was interrupted by the earthquake:

    View ESPN’s reports on the Loma Prieta aftermath:

    For a printable “Get Ready Quake” card, go to:


    Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence Help After 1989 Earthquake

    In addition to marking an anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake, 2019 also marks an important anniversary for the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. They turned the big 40 this year. While many LGBT nonprofits and other groups helped out after the 1989 quake, the Sisters did something especially clever.

    During the year of the quake, the Castro was the site of a massive annual street party on Halloween. While revelers still gather in the district for the holiday, the big celebration was called off by the city in 2006, after a shooting wounded nine people.

    The Halloween celebrants turned out in droves on October 31, 1989, though. This was just two weeks after the earthquake, so people were more than ready to turn their attention toward something more uplifting. Seizing the opportune moment, the Sisters went out into the crowds with donation buckets and collected thousands of dollars.

    The money went to fill the coffers of the San Francisco Mayor’s Earthquake Relief Fund. Art Agnos (1938–) was the city’s mayor at that time. Agnos is still going strong, as are the Sisters, who have raised money for the promotion of safer sex, HIV/AIDS prevention, breast cancer research and much more.