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Hundreds of homeless people stood on the lawn of the Marina Green Thursday afternoon, listening to San Francisco public health officials explain to them why they couldn't go back home again. At least not for a while.

These were not your typical refugees; a far cry from the pictures of those East Germans now spilling into Czechoslovakia. If you wanted living proof that earthquakes are no respecters of persons, or high-rent districts, you should have been on the Marina Green Thursday.San Francisco's Marina District is among the most exclusive in the city. Condominiums and houses start at $300,000. A studio apartment rents for at least $1,000 a month, if you can find one.

To the east is Fisherman's Wharf. To the west is the Presidio Park and the Golden Gate Bridge. To the north is Sausalito. To the immediate north is San Francisco Bay, where many Marina residents dock their yachts.

Joe DiMaggio lives in the Marina District. So does F. Lee Bailey's ex-wife and Bob Welch, the Oakland A's pitcher who came within 26 minutes of starting Game 3 of the World Series on Tuesday. But then the earthquake hit, ruining not only his start, but his home.

But when the Marina District residents assembled Thursday afternoon, they didn't look like the homeless. Some had their dogs on leashes - including an inordinate number of Dalmatians. There were a lot of Polo horse logos and sweaters tied loosely about the neck, and a lot of people showed up on mountain bikes.

Many hadn't been in their homes since the earthquake struck at 5:04 p.m. Tuesday; and, in an eight-block section that had been roped off and declared officially unsafe, no one had even been near his home.

One teenage girl, whose parents were taking notes of the speeches, was overheard telling her friend, "There's been no water for a shower or anything. I've got tons of pimples."

A shelter was set up at the Marina Middle School, where people slept on the gym floor, drank bottled water and talked sympathetically of their eight neighbors who lost their lives the night of the quake, and of the eight homes already reduced to rubble.

Thursday's assembly was to bring everyone up to date. People stood on the Marina Green at the edge of the bay, some of them straddling three- and four-inch fissures in the grass - cracks that weren't there before Tuesday. Normally, the area is a haven for kite-fliers, joggers, soccer games, roller skaters and sunbathers. It is also one of the best places in the city to take a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge.

(Personal aside: I had taken a run from Fisherman's Wharf to the Golden Gate Bridge on Tuesday afternoon, only three hours before the earthquake. On the Marina Green, all of the above-mentioned activity was going on, as well as some kind of self-defense karate class for women).

A lot had happened in 48 hours; a fact not lost on anyone who called the Marina home, or who now didn't.

Two residents spoke of the irony of this predicament, explaining that the Marina District wouldn't even be here today if not for the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

After that quake, landfill was brought in to create what is now the Marina District. It was created for the express purpose of staging the Pan American Exposition in 1908 - an exposition the people of San Francisco wanted to hold so they could demonstrate to the world that they had survived the earthquake and were moving on.

All that remains of the PanAm Expo is the Palace of Fine Arts, an ornate, domed structure that suffered extensive damage Tuesday.

It was the sandy foundation of the Marina District that made it most vulnerable when the earthquake hit - easily the most vulnerable of any area in the greater San Francisco area.

Nearby, houses and other buildings on San Francisco's famous hills fared fine; it was the flatland near the water that didn't handle the shockwaves so well.

The director of public health said through the loudspeaker, "You may go quickly to your homes and recover any necessities." Then he added, "No homes will be torn down without the owner first being notified."

At that, a cheer went up. A small victory in the face of a chain of recent defeats. If all else failed, they'd have a chance to argue.

Well, at least they'll be notified if the tearing down comes in human form.

After engineers conduct their investigations of the area and determine if any more structures need to be leveled, all residents will be allowed to return to their homes. That's what Art Agnos, San Francisco mayor, said to the Marina District people as he took the microphone.

That could be in another day, or a week. As for power, that may not be restored for as long as three months.

"That's life," said a woman as she crossed the green, preparing to see the inside of her home for the first time in two days. "This used to be the place to live, you know. I hope we get back to normal soon. The earthquake makes you appreciate the way it was."