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Loma Prieta earthquake recalled in gripping new TV documentary

“Loma Prieta Earthquake, 30 Years Later” reflects on the stories from the survivors, first responders and unsung heroes from the Bay Area quake


In this Oct. 19, 1989 file photo, workers check the damage to Interstate 880 in Oakland, Calif., after it collapsed during the Loma Prieta earthquake two days earlier.

AP Photo/Paul Sakuma

By Chuck Barney
The Mercury News

SAN FRANCISCO — “I was just getting ready to see what it’s like to die.”

Those are the ominous words of Tim Petersen, a Bay Area man who nearly lost his life when the Loma Prieta Earthquake rocked the region. He recalls his incredible ordeal in a new hourlong documentary produced by NBC Bay Area (KNTV) that debuts Sunday, Oct. 13, at 10 p.m.

“Bay Area Revelations: Loma Prieta Earthquake, 30 Years Later” looks back at the damage and the devastation, but mainly emphasizes the extraordinary stories of bravery and survival that shone through in the aftermath of the quake.

Petersen’s story is among the more gripping. On the evening of Oct. 17, 1989, he was rushing home to catch Game 3 of the Bay Bridge World Series between the Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants when, suddenly, it was “lights out.”

His pickup truck was one of the vehicles crushed under the crumpled Cypress Freeway. Trapped inside, all he could hear were blaring horns and, for the first half hour, blood-curdling screams. He spent six hours in his truck — and under the rubble — and was prepared to die.

But thanks to the valiant efforts of Andy Papp, a member of the Oakland Fire Department, he didn’t. Every year when Oct. 17 rolls around, Petersen makes sure to give Papp a phone call.

Narrated by Peter Coyote, the documentary is told primarily through the lens of survivors who share memories of the earthquake from Candlestick Park, San Francisco’s Marina District, the Cypress Freeway in Oakland and downtown Santa Cruz.

Interviewees include sportscaster Al Michaels, former Giants star Will Clark and A’s pitcher Dave Stewart, along with former San Francisco mayor Art Agnos and former police chief Frank Jordan.

Viewers also hear from Dr. James Betts, an Oakland surgeon who amputated a young boy’s leg in order to save his life, and the “miracle survival” story of a family-run bookshop in Santa Cruz.

“Loma Prieta Earthquake, 30 Years Later” reflects on the stories from the survivors, first responders and unsung heroes, and ways the Bay Area is working to prepare for natural disasters in the future.

In addition to its premiere airing, the documentary will re-air at 4 p.m. Oct. 19.


©2019 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)