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THE BAY AREA QUAKE : Pressure Points : WHAT WORKED, WHAT DIDN'T, AND WHY : TRANSPORTATION : Travel Turns Into a Test of Nerves

October 20, 1989|BOB SCHWARTZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Getting into, out of and around the Bay Area was a study in improvisation, and will remain one for months.

People took boats instead of trains. They rented cars and drove to distant destinations instead of waiting for a seat on an airplane. Pilots landed their planes at airports not really equipped to handle them. In downtown San Francisco, citizens helped direct traffic at intersections with inoperative signals and crowds emerged from trains that bounced up and down on their tracks, ready to walk.

"I felt like I was going to throw up," said James Herron Zamora, a passenger on the Bay Area Rapid Transit system when the quake hit. "People next to me were crying. One woman started praying."

Scary as it was, BART was one of the success stories of the earthquake. The four-mile-long tube that runs underneath San Francisco Bay sustained only very minor damage, and trains were linking Oakland and San Francisco the next day--although not many commuters were eager to jump aboard. With the Bay Bridge impassable, some took cross-bay ferries instead.

Quake-damaged rail lines into Oakland from Los Angeles stopped Amtrak's northbound Coast Starlight at Salinas, about 60 miles from San Francisco. Amtrak provided buses to either Martinez or Sacramento, where other trains continued the trip into the Pacific Northwest.

Air travel was a similar story. With all Bay Area airports temporarily closed immediately following the earthquake, flights already en route had to be diverted to other California airports, or stopped at connecting airports as far away as Salt Lake City and Chicago.

Sacramento Airport, equipped to handle about eight planes at a time, suddenly had 30. Passengers aboard a plane from the Philippines had to stay aboard while their jet awaited clearance for Los Angeles because the Sacramento Airport has no customs area. Jumbo 747 jets, too wide for the airport's runway, kicked up clouds of dust as they landed and took off.

By Wednesday, Bay Area airports had reopened--San Francisco International with a damaged control tower, broken water pipes and smashed departure-arrival monitors.

At Oakland Airport, which suffered 3,000 feet of runway damage, Hertz rental car agents were cut by broken glass during the earthquake, but the ensuing demand for cars left little time for nursing minor wounds.

The Bay Area Rapid Transit District tube beneath San Francisco Bay was briefly closed but reopened after the damage was pronounced minor.

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