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Where were you when? Barbara Rodgers remembers 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake

Retired broadcast journalist Barbara Rodgers speaks with The Standard about her experience during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake at Candlestick Point in the Bayview in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, October 11, 2022. Rodgers was covering the Giants/A’s Bay Bridge World Series at Candlestick Park when the earthquake hit. | Juliana Yamada for The Standard

On Oct. 17, 1989, the San Francisco Bay Area was buzzing about baseball: The A’s and the Giants were facing off against one another in Game 3 of the World Series. Dubbed “The Battle of the Bay,” the championship pitted Northern California’s two Major League Baseball teams against one another in a matchup split between the Oakland Coliseum and Candlestick Park.

As Barbara Rodgers headed off to work, she remembers thinking that she was in for a “piece of cake” October afternoon. At the time, Rodgers was working as an on-air newscaster for local CBS affiliate KPIX 5. After 20 nonstop days reporting on the MLB playoffs, Rodgers had arrived at Candlestick Park that day hoping to get in, record a few interviews and go home early.

Then, at 5:04 p.m.—shortly before the first pitch was scheduled to be thrown and with live cameras on the field—a magnitude 6.9 quake rocked the San Francisco Bay Area, plunging the region into chaos. 

General view of the Marina district disaster zone after an earthquake, measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale, rocks game three of the World Series between the Oakland A's and San Francisco Giants at Candlestick Park on Oct. 17, 1989 in San Francisco. | Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images

The Loma Prieta earthquake caused 63 deaths, 3,757 injuries and about $6 billion in damage. Many injuries and casualties occurred when a portion of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and part of the Cypress Structure collapsed.

We spoke to Rodgers last week, asking her to recall her experiences on that fateful day. Here’s what she had to say.

The Day Of

Rodgers was interviewing some Giants fans when she felt the ground underneath her heave and sway. Listen to the clip below to hear her recount the experience:

Rodgers recalls that the crowd gathered in Candlestick Park didn’t fully grasp the magnitude of the situation at first. Fans chanted and sang “We Will Rock You” by Queen, as the earth rocked beneath them, thinking the earthquake was a good omen for the home team. 

But as news trickled in about the damage wrought across the Bay, Rodgers knew the situation was far more serious than a game of ball. 

“I turned to my photographer. I said, ‘We need to get out of the stadium and out in a clear space.’ And so that's what we did. We ran and ran and ran till we didn't run. I moved and moved and moved until we got outside where we could stand in an open space,” Rodgers said. 

Fences surround the former Candlestick Park in the Bayview in San Francisco on Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2022. | Juliana Yamada for The Standard

A general view of Candlestick Park after the Loma Prieta earthquake hit on Oct. 17, 1989 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. | Rich Pilling/Getty Images

Between worrying about the state of her house (it was fine) and checking in on her husband (he made it home safely), Rodgers reported nonstop on air and even squeezed in an interview with the U.S. vice president, Dan Quayle. 

She stayed on the job until 2 a.m. the next morning. 

The Day After

Like many who experienced Loma Prieta’s powerful waves, Rodgers said that Oct. 17 was “really one of those days you never forget.” From the roaring crowd at Candlestick Park to the collapsed Bay Bridge and fire-lit Marina, Rodgers thinks that Loma Prieta was truly one of the “craziest”—and scariest—stories she’s covered. 

“Earthquakes are so unpredictable,” Rodgers said. “And because nobody in our generation had had experience with that kind of earthquake, because the last big one was so long ago, it was really scary.”

A black-and-white photo of a collapsed two-story building.
Structures damaged in the Marina District, the first story of this three-story building was damaged in the quake. | Photo by Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images | Source: Getty Images
Caltrans workers and California Highway Patrol try to keep order, as a section of the Bay Bridge collapsed when the Loma Prieta earthquake struck, Oct. 17, 1989. | Steve Ringman/The SF Chronicle via Getty Images

In the aftermath of the quake, Rodgers turned to poetry to express the feeling of unease and eerie trepidation she felt earlier in the day—before the earthquake. San Franciscans were grumbling about how hot it was that day, noting that the climate was so “strange,” even for the city’s famously balmy October weather. 

“It was hot. It was still, and it was this sort of strange light in the sky that just seemed weird,” said Rodgers. “All of that, though, was in retrospect. When it was happening, it was like everybody was talking about the heat.” 

She titled the poem “Earthquake Weather.”  The piece is her recollection of the eerie—and potentially prophetic—weather that day before “the big one.” 

Earthquake Weather

by Barbara Rodgers

Hot. Too hot.
Even for this town's October.
Something's rising in an oven
baking in the Devil's kitchen
something roiling, bubbling over
with no place to go.
With no place below to go.

Calm. So Calm.
Stillness like in late December
in a place that harbors winter
when a sudden snow has entered
gently snuffling all the noises
of the earth we know.
Of the earth we think we know.

Clear. Real clear.
Light that seems to build a tunnel
reaching down into that kitchen
where there's something growing, swelling
trying now to find a passage
up and through earth's floor.
Up and through earth's fragile floor.

Meaghan Mitchell can be reached at