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THE BAY AREA QUAKE : 5:04 P.M. : A TIME WHEN LIVES CHANGED : Tales of the Quake: Death, Heroes and Luck : Luck, Nameless Heroes Saved Woman's Life

October 20, 1989|MARIA NEWMAN

Suddenly, Dorothy Otto found herself trapped. The top deck of the Nimitz Freeway had her pinned to the bottom deck. It was dark and dirty and hot. "I heard other people yelling and moaning for a little while," she said, "but not for very long."

Otto, 43, had been heading home, nearing the Cypress exit in her Pontiac, when she felt the freeway heave and heard it groan. She knew right away there had been an earthquake. As the top deck slammed down, a chunk landed vertically on her car. It braced the upper deck at an angle. She thinks that is what saved her.

But the earthquake wreckage held her tight. It caught her left foot. She could not move.

"I politely called for help for half an hour," she said. "And then I started screaming. If you see pictures, you can see where the top tier is kissing the lower tier, and it looks like there is not much room in there.

"Well, there isn't."

Somebody, she doesn't know who, heard her screams. "Some wonderful rescue workers slaved four hours to cut me free. Those guys went into a place that I wouldn't go if you paid me. It was a real scary thing. I didn't think I would get out. I heard smashing and banging as they worked. It took four hours of really hard work.

"They had to cut the door off the car. They had to cut the floor out of the car.

"I don't know anybody's name. I wish I did. There were guys from the Oakland neighborhood crawling into the rubble, trying to help anyone. They were really putting themselves on the line. They were great."

Otto was taken to Eden Hospital Medical Center in Oakland. "I hurt a lot, but I'm in great shape. I'm a very lucky lady. I guess not many people made it who were on the lower deck."

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