15 seconds that changed the Bay Area

October 12, 2009 9:42:57 AM PDT
Next weekend marks the 20th anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake - the 6.9 magnitude killed 63 people and there was more than $7 billion in damage.

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"For the first time in 27 years, a World Series game will be played at Candlestick Park," said game announcer Al Michaels.

It was game three of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A's. The pre-game show had just begun - when suddenly something went wrong.

The Bay Area shook for 15 seconds - but it was hours before we realized the huge extent of the damage. Power and phone service was cut for much of the Bay Area. Radio and TV stations were knocked off the air. But ABC7 was uniquely positioned to get the story to the Bay Area and the rest of the world. The ABC national network was covering the World Series so the blimp was there - broadcasting the first pictures of a huge fire in San Francisco's Marina District. And ABC7 had had an emergency generator - so we were the first station back on the air broadcasting from a make-shift set in a seriously damaged building.

Cheryl Jennings was at the anchor desk.

"There has been a major earthquake, an earthquake which was felt from Oakland to Sacramento and as far south as Los Angeles," said Jennings in 1989.

Crews assigned to the World Series were instead sending images of disaster.

"I'm at the corner of Jefferson and Divisadero, you can see this building is collapsed. They don't know if people are still in there or if they aren't. The natural gas lines have ruptured and that is what's caused that fire. The water lines have ruptured, there is no water coming out of the fire hydrants," said ABC7's Laura Marquez in 1989.

"It's been a frightening scene here. As you can see just below me is where this crack in the Bay Bridge occurred - a 50 foot section - you see down there below the two cars - two cars that were on the upper deck when the bridge collapsed," said ABC7's Leslie Brinkley in 1989.

"The building began to shake it terrified people. There was yelling and screaming almost instantaneously. The cars here in the parking lot were rolling back and forth, literally bouncing on the ground," said ABC7's Pete Wilson in 1989.

The downtown section of Santa Cruz was basically gone.

"I was down at the other end of the end of the mall at Ford's department store and the windows blew out and right away I just went up the mall and realized pretty much the whole mall had come down," said a unidentified man.

It was a night of devastating loss and selfless bravery -an event that would change the Bay Area - captured by television crews who expected to be covering a ballgame.

Written and Produced by Jennifer Olney

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