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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 : He Finds His Friend, Too Late

October 20, 1989|LILY ENG

She trembled when she told about it, and she cried.

Her name is Victoria Solomon. She is 26, a Red Cross disaster services volunteer. She had come to San Francisco not long ago from Texas, where she had done relief work during a hurricane. That had made her a veteran, but not a hardened veteran. And this story, on top of her fatigue, was more than she could bear.

The young man had come to her because she was in charge. She was running the Red Cross shelter at Marina Middle School, where 600 residents of the Marina District in San Francisco bedded down for the night. In her blue jeans and black cotton pullover, she certainly didn't looked like the boss. But she was. And he needed to talk to her.

"He kept coming back to me and coming back to me. He was looking for his girlfriend."

Not really his girlfriend, she corrected herself. He was looking for his friend; who happened to be a young woman. "He couldn't find her. I kept sending him back to all sorts of people, to check hospitals, to check the police, to check everything. But he kept coming back. He was like a recurring nightmare."

Victoria Solomon paused. She had been talking for so long to so many people--consoling, organizing, advising--that her voice sounded like gravel rattling down a tin roof. She pulled deeply from a cup of coffee. It didn't help.

"I mean, every time I saw him, I knew he was looking for somebody who might be dead.

"Then he was gone for a while.

"Well, tonight he came back. He'd found her, and her boyfriend.

"And both were dead.

"I'm used to dealing with life," she went on, trying in vain to sound like the hardened veteran she was not. "I never think of death.

"But this guy brought it so close, I just cried.

"I tried to tell him, 'They didn't suffer. They died quickly.'

"But what can you say. I must have sounded so stupid."

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