When the 6.9 temblor struck, it sent a 30-foot piece of the Bay Bridge crashing into its lower tier, and made the columns supporting the Nimitz Freeway portion of nearby Interstate 880 crumble like dominos, virtually paralyzing the entire Bay Area. The San Mateo Bridge also had to be closed after the quake.
Those traveling by subway had to grope through darkness to get out. The system was shut down until morning. Ambulances crawled through gridlocked streets toward downtown San Francisco while many commuters, faced with closed bridges and blocked roadways, abandoned their cars altogether. Elevated portions of U.S. 101, one of the main arteries to the south, buckled in several places near San Francisco International Airport and the Embarcadero Freeway, which travels along the city's waterfront, was closed when portions of it collapsed. California 17, a main link to the city of San Jose that crosses the San Andreas Fault near the quake's epicenter, was closed after landslides and fissures blocked access. Two roadway overpass bridges in Santa Cruz also collapsed.
Major airports were closed for several hours.
More than 1 million people were left without electricty when the temblor knocked out power, leaving the San Francisco Bay Area beneath a blanket of darkness. In the small cities of Hollister and Los Gatos, power went out and natural gas lines ruptured. By the middle of the next day, nearly half the people in the area still had no light. Stockbrokers at San Francisco's Pacific Stock Exchange traded by candlelight in the morning.Communications
People lined up 20 deep at some phone booths in the Bay Area to try to make phone calls. Only 30% of long distance calls made via the long distance connections of AT&T made it out of the Bay Area Tuesday. Phone companies made outgoing calls from the area a priority, causing 70% of those calling in to get only a dial tone or recording on the other end. Radio and television stations flickered on and off for hours after the quake as broadcast engineers attempted to switch to emergency power supplies. Most newspapers did not make it to the streets until early the following morning. The San Jose Mercury News and Oakland Tribune were able to stick to their normal publishing schedules, shipping out tens of thousands of extra papers to newstands, and out-of-town papers, such as the Los Angeles Times, were transported to the Bay Area.
More than 1,400 aftershocks rumbled through San Francisco following the quake, most too small to feel. The largest measured 5.2 and was recorded within the first hour after the temblor. Another aftershock measuring 4.0 struck about 10 hours later. Four more strong aftershocks were recorded Thursday morning, the largest measuring 5.0, acording to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Damage to the water supply appeared to hit hardest at outlying cities in the San Francisco Bay Area located closer to the quake's epicenter. In the Santa Cruz area, officials advised residents Tuesday evening to boil all water because of concerns about broken water and sewer lines. Water lines also ruptured in the town of Los Gatos. Volunteers in San Francisco at one point had to form an old-fashioned fire brigade, running a hose from the bay to a building on fire in the Marina District, after water pipes broke and water pressure was lost. However, water lines in San Francisco and Oakland were apparently left largely intact.
Thousands of students at UC Santa Cruz spent Tuesday night camped out on campus grounds. By midnight dormitories had been declared safe, but the school remained closed Wednesday as more buildings were checked for damage. UC Berkeley was open on Wednesday.
The state Office of Emergency Services reported that a fuel storage tank at the Unocal terminal in Richmond ruptured, spilling up to 20,000 barrels of flammable liquid.
Los Gatos, about 30 miles northeast of Santa Cruz, was among the most seriously damaged communities in the Bay Area--after San Francisco and Oakland. Pavement was buckled and natural gas and water lines ruptured in the center of town. Police reported 15 to 20 injuries, but no fatalities.
Santa Clara County
Three deaths were confirmed in Santa Clara County. Also, 650 people were treated for injuries at local hospitals, mostly for fractures, bruises and cuts. A pipeline that feeds water into the Santa Clara Valley from the Calero Reservoir sustained two ruptures and was shut down.
Santa Cruz County
Five deaths were confirmed in Santa Cruz County by Wednesday morning. More than 300 people spent the night in shelters provided by the county. There were 25 structure fires where the buildings were declared a total loss, and 40 other buildings in the county collapsed.