When San Francisco's killer earthquake held her captive in a tunnel underneath the bay, Salt Laker Debra Shaner got a stark reminder of how fragile life can be.
Weber County Emergency Services Director Brad Dee knows the feeling.Dee waited out the quake trapped in an elevator in a downtown San Francisco hotel.
Coincidentally, Weber County Commissioner William Bailey and his wife also were briefly stuck in an elevator at the same hotel when the quake occurred.
"Coming down, the elevator knocked us around," Bailey said. "We thought something was wrong with the elevator. We could hear cables hitting back and forth."
Shaner's experience was even more terrifying. The bank teller was riding BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) from Oakland to San Francisco Tuesday when the catastrophic temblor struck - toppling buildings, setting neighborhoods aflame and paralyzing the city's transportation system.
The train Shaner shared with 300 other commuters came to a screeching halt.
"I didn't understand what was happening because we hadn't come to our stop yet," Shaner said in a telephone interview. "But the train started shaking, rocking back and forth, bumping against both sides of the tunnel. Of course we then knew it was an earthquake."
Trying to stay calm, passengers sat for more than 30 minutes in the motionless train, awaiting help.
Instead darkness arrived.
With the loss of power came the conductor's order to evacuate, and Shaner moved with the crowd along a narrow walkway - feeling her way out of the pitch black tunnel to safety.
"I had never been in a quake before so I didn't panic, but I was terror stricken," she said. "I didn't know what to do, so I basically followed people. No one screamed, but everyone was terrified. They didn't know what was going on."
The light at the end of the tunnel came at Montgomery Street _ the heart of San Francisco, but foreign territory to the 20-year-old Salt Laker who had relocated to the Bay Area only four weeks ago.
"I didn't know where I was. I thought I was still in Oakland because I don't know my way around well," she said. "So I had to ask where I was. I was told I was in San Francisco."
But there was no way home to the Burlingame apartment Shaner shares with her husband of 11 months.
While hotel evacuees wearing bathrobes sat on curbs, vagrants wandered through the rubble and broken glass, and police - sirens roaring - tried to calm the chaos.
Once freed from the elevator, Dee, along with hundreds of tourists and San Franciscans, spent the night on the grass in Union Square Park away from the hazards of glass falling from downtown buildings.
The Baileys, Riverdale Mayor Leon Poulsen and his wife, also in San Francisco to attend a water-pollution-control meeting, slept on the floor of an underground room at the new Marriott Hotel, which was not scheduled to open until Friday.
Shaner and other stranded commuters waited for hours by public telephones hoping to notify loved ones of their whereabouts.
But the former Utah State University student was not able to reach her husband; the telephone's ring went unanswered at home.
A worried Keith Shaner, an entertainment manager for the Marriott Hotel, too had left their apartment in search of his wife. Ironically, he waited throughout the night at a BART station - less than four blocks away from the Chevron Associates Building where Debra Shaner and hundreds of other travelers sought refuge.
Each was given a cot, water and food. But only inner strength relieved Shaner's fears.
"I knew if I broke down and cried I would be a wreck the rest of the time. I basically had to keep myself calm and say, `There is nothing you can do right now.' There was nothing I could do."
But with the dawn came hope.
At 5:15 a.m. Wednesday, Shaner boarded another BART for home. After a nearly 24-hour separation, she was united with her husband.
Salt Lake residents Sandy and Shirley Sandberg, who had been alerted at midnight Wednesday that their daughter was missing, heard her reassuring voice over the phone at 8 a.m.
"She was still in shock. She said that wandering through an unknown area was indescribable. She said it felt like it was in another world," Shirley Sandberg said. "It's one of those experiences that when you get up in the morning you don't expect to happen during the day."
Shaner prays it doesn't happen again.
But Shaner worries more tragedy is coming.
"They are really worried that many places that withstood the quake may then be leveled."