It’s a funny thing, memory. The passage of time takes the edge off the raw emotion of important events in our lives, leaving an impression, almost like a photograph, a snapshot if you will, of the moment. The images of Hurricane Sandy have brought to mind just such a snapshot of my personal experience with natural disaster, earthquakes.
Ironically I’ve lived through two massive earthquakes: San Francisco in 1989, when like 2012, the Giants were in the World Series and the Northridge Earthquake in 1994. I was working and living in San Francisco in 1989 when the earthquake struck. My wife Tama and I had to walk home from downtown because the electricity was out and public transportation was not functioning. In a tale of good and evil, I remember hearing about a good Samaritan who was gunned down for directing traffic in the Lower Haight while the street lights were out. Back at our apartment that night, we sat alongside our neighbors in our apartment’s courtyard huddled around my 2″ battery powered black and white TV. We may have had the only working TV in the City a far as I know. We drank like sailors on leave, sharing tales and fears, not knowing what was to happen next. The death toll and damage were largely contained to the downed Nimitz freeway in Oakland and the Marina district, where nearly century old landfill turned to sandy-slush and some housing slid off their foundations. We had friends live with us for several months because their apartment building was one of those that was demolished. The recovery however seemed pretty quick. At the time, the economy was booming so for most, the damage became a commuter’s nightmare but by and large, life returned to semi-normal relatively quickly.
A year later, we moved to Southern California. By 1994 I had welcomed two kids, Hannah and Adam, the newest only 4 months old when the Northridge quake rattled my home. It was only through the Grace of God and good fortune that my wife was nursing my son at that exact moment, because she jumped up only seconds before bookshelves I’d mounted in my baby son’s room came tumbling down on the crib and rocking chair. Memo to all, don’t mount bookcases over a bed…
The Northridge shaker was far more damaging of individual property than that of Loma Prieta. Many, many houses came down or were damaged. Words like “Red Tagged” and “Yellow Tagged” were bandied about to indicate the degree of personal property loss. Yellow meant repairable but unlivable, Red a total loss. Strikingly different from 1989, was the economy at the time. We were in the throes of an awful recession. The housing bubble had burst and values had plummeted. Construction was anemic and for one selling new homes I can attest, it was a very tough time. The economy was not dissimilar to the economy we have today.
From the chaos and despair however, came the dawn of a new day, it was called disaster relief. FEMA stepped in, albeit slowly and so did the Small Business Administration by helping those homeowners without insurance to rebuild their homes. The insurance companies set up virtual triage camps to assess and assist their members and although it took more than several months, the money did eventually start to pour in. As the money arrived, so did the jobs. Construction workers suddenly found their services in demand again. Lumber, steel, flooring, cabinets, concrete – it was all needed for the recovery. For an ailing economy, the Northridge disaster was like a shot of vitamin B, so much so that by 1995 the real estate market had bottomed and began what was to be a rapid ascent.
It is with this backdrop, that I hold out hope and optimism for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. It will take many, many months before life returns to normal for a large swath of the Eastern Seaboard. It will take the generosity and compassion of those not affected to help relieve the suffering in the near term and it will be the large sums of money of the insurance companies and the Federal government that will likely kick start those ailing economies as they did in Northridge nearly 20 years ago. Coupled with what appears to be a national economy on the mend, we have to believe things are going to get better for those affected most by Sandy.
*A quick aside: If you’d like to help those affected by Sandy, donations to the American Red Cross can be made online, RedCross.org/hurricane_aid, but I used Apple’s iTunes link to donate directly to the Red Cross “Super Storm Sandy Relief” because they have my card information and it was fast and easy, just 4 clicks.