While the massive earthquake that rumbled through Northern California Oct. 17 left most area Church members shaken but unscathed, it wreaked extensive damage to many structures, particularly those old and weak.
The quake also shook the lives of people, interrupting some, and permanently changing the direction of others. Among Church members caught in the disaster, the gospel was simplified to its most basic form - that of Christian love for others. Home teachers and visiting teachers became heroes and heroines as they rushed unprompted to help the families to which they were assigned.Widely publicized as the San Francisco earthquake, the temblor was actually centered in the Santa Cruz mountains, 50 miles to the south, near the meetinghouse of the Alma Branch. Deep fissures caused by the quakewere just half a mile from the building.
The corridor of destruction swept up the San Francisco Peninsula, across the bay to Oakland, and ranged below to Watsonville, Hollister, Gilroy, Santa Cruz and vicinity, and Los Gatos. The earthquake is considered the costliest disaster in United States history, with total damage estimated at $7 billion, and a death toll of 63 as of Oct. 25.
Early reports that no members were killed in the earthquake were made from preliminary home teaching visits and did not extend to Sacramento, 90 miles east of the Bay area. Leaders later learned that two members died in the collapse of the Nimitz 880 Freeway. They were Jacquline Nelson Easton, 48, of the Sacramento 2nd Ward, and John Lauritz, 51, from San Francisco. Brother Lauritz was staying at the Easton home while convalescing from an operation. Sister Easton had taken him to a doctor's appointment in San Francisco, and to pick up his car. They were returning in separate cars, one following the other, to Sacramento when the shock hit.
"Her helping others is very characteristic of her life," said her husband, James. "She had an understanding heart and a sympathetic ear; she was loved by everyone."
He said the family gathered and turned "what would have been a horrible experience if I'd had to be alone, into a spiritual time. The great outpouring of concern has been tremendous."
At least 10 to 12 homes of members in the Santa Cruz and Morgan Hill stakes were destroyed and additional dozens were seriously damaged. Most homes in the damage zones lost chimneys, glassware, china, or crystal - anything breakable not fastened down.
But the earthquake also shook off estrangement between people and uncovered bonds of humanity where people risked their lives for strangers. This heroic action, coupled with abundant provident circumstances, prevented a much greater loss of life in extremely desperate situations.
"The priesthood and visiting teachers were terrific," said Elder Gene R. Cook of the First Quorum of the Seventy and president of the North America West Area. "They were very well organized to respond to individual needs and quick to contact all their members.
"The Lord blessed the saints. And we are thankful for the well-built buildings in California."
He reported the California stakes supplied all the relief efforts that were needed - or that could be accepted - in the stricken areas. Those who want to contribute to this and other disaster relief should do so through the regular fast offering funds, he said.
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Scientists think the earthquake began as a small slippage of a few yards of earth 11 miles below the surface that sent violent shock waves at nearly 7,000 miles an hour.
Some of the most destructive forces of the earthquake are secondary shocks created by the main quake. One of these is the surface wave, which in soft soil can amplify the force up to 20 to 30 times. This is called an amplified surface wave. Another type of wave is the sympathetic vibration, which is also generated by the main shock. The sympathetic vibrations are long waves that are particularly destructive to elongated structures.
The main shock is also preceeded by the p-wave, a sound wave that arrives as a low hum, often difficult to hear. When the main shock, or shear wave, strikes, it shakes the ground both horizontally and vertically.
On Oct. 17, property in Northern California was destroyed and members were affected by at least these three types of earthquake waves - amplified surface wave, sympathetic vibrations and the shear wave.
The San Francisco Marina, within the boundaries of the Golden Gate Ward, is about 50 miles north of the epicenter and rests on soft, alluvial silt. The shock whipped the connected four-story apartment buildings, collapsing some. Corner buildings open on two sides were most commonly damaged.
About 10 to 12 active families live in the Marina and were affected. One member, Jenette Roylance, was on the front lawn of her Marina apartment reading when it hit. She ran to an archway in her apartment stairs, then back to the lawn as the shaking grew more severe. "I saw the wall of a building collapse," she said. "I could see the levels of the building and people standing inside. It looked like someone had sawed the whole building in half." A few minutes later, Kash and Marianne Siepert arrived back from a shopping trip to check on the Marina apartment where they lived and were managers.
Seeing the damage, Siepert sent his wife and children to safety at the homes of other members, then dashed with another tenant to rescue two elderly ladies still in their apartment.
"The gas main right out front had blown and was shooting gas into the air," he related. "Gas was very heavy in the air." The pair found the elderly ladies very disoriented. One was trapped behind a buckled door, which they kicked in.
"We carried the two ladies down the back steps. By then the gas was so heavy our eyes were burning and it was hard to breathe."
In the meantime, his wife had placed the children at a member's home for safekeeping, and returned to help locate members. She found the ward high priests group leader, Col. Charles M. "Mike" Margetts and his wife, who were doing the same thing, and joined them in seeking other members.
Sister Siepert recalled, "There were people laying in the street hurt, and people trying to help them. All of a sudden I saw the smoke starting to come and a fire kind of exploded. It was incredible. It looked like the whole block was on fire."
During this period of less than an hour, the members in the Marina were looking for each other, and "everyone in our ward seemed to come together all at once."
Several ward members were involved in dramatic rescues. Brother Siepert later joined Spencer Tall, counselor in the bishopric, in seeking other ward members. As they searched, they helped remove others from threatened buildings. (Brother Tall had helped evacuate a woman from the second floor of a collapsed building that later burned.) Other ward members took part in similar efforts.
"The system works," said San Francisco Stake Pres. Quentin L. Cook. "Home teaching and visiting teaching programs just kicked in automatically, and there was a real spirit of community among the ward."
The community spirit also spread beyond, he added. "I received calls from bishops and stake presidents in Texas, Minnesota, Washington D.C., and outlying areas of California offering, `Anything we can do, we'll do it.' It was very heartwarming.
"We consider ourselves very blessed that there weren't any serious injuries or deaths in the stake. While tragedies are unfortunate, they do bring people together, and bring them back to essential gospel values. In the long-term, the impact may be spiritually positive."
Bishop J. Stanford Watkins was in New York when the earthquake hit. His first counselor, Kent Karren, an Army eye surgeon, automatically took over.
"Everything fit in," said Bishop Watkins. "We usually do home teaching by assignment, but when something like this happens, we do it just by natural Christian instinct. Everyone in the ward had direction."
On the other side of the bay in Oakland, the earthquake's shear wave had additional effects with tragic consequences. As its energy rippled the bay area, it generated similar, or sympathetic reverberations on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and the Nimitz 880 Freeway near the bridge. A section of the bridge fell, and more than a mile of the upper deck of the freeway collapsed, bringing considerable loss of life.
Tons of concrete flattened vehicles beneath it. As rescuers sought out survivors, the concrete moved dangerously. Despite the danger, hope of finding survivors drove rescurers on.
During this time, the missionaries in the California Oakland Mission were instructed to cease proselyting in order to volunteer to assist the community. By Wednesday night, Oct. 18, they had been organized by the Red Cross to render support at the Nimitz site.
More than 121 missionaries were involved, most at the freeway disaster site, said Sister April Lowry, from Orlando, Fla. "We started unloading supply trucks," But soon the sisters were placed in the Red Cross communications area, taking phone calls from relatives, and passing along messages. Other missionaries were quickly assigned to key positions that included assigning housing, and locating housing when available space was filled up.
"We tried to cheer everybody up," said Sister Lowry. "So many lives were lost that we knew it would be hard for people to deal with that. That's why we tried to give them a boost."
She and her companion, Sister Halaevalu Osahengaule of Hawaii, worked almost two days without sleep. Others missionaries worked similar long hours as well.
Weary and discouraged workers, and Red Cross officials, appreciated their support and cheer.
The shear wave
Near the epicenter of the earthquake, the shear wave brought down landslides, cracked roads, and tore caverns deep into the earth. Cracks were tell-tale marks of the quake. Cracks trailed through loose dirt, then went through a mortared rock instead of choosing the easier path in the mortar around the stone. Cracks split highways and, apparently just as easily, fractured four-foot concrete barriers that rested on them. The cracks also collapsed foundations and tumbled houses into ravines.
At the summit of the Santa Cruz Mountains and in nearby communities where the shock was most severe, members rallied during the quake and its large offspring of aftershocks. They held up throughout loss of water, power and telephones, and through a windstorm and torrential rain, all within a six-day period. Additional landslides caused by rain, and post-quake trauma, however, were continual challenges to members.
So tremendous was the force of the quake in this area that parked cars were jarred into the air, said Don Hoffman, bishop's counselor in the Santa Cruz 1st Ward, Santa Cruz Stake.
"I had two cars parked in the driveway that were jumping around almost like jack rabbits," he related. "The door in the house was open and I could see pictures crashing. People in the street were hollering. The motion was a kind of an up-and-down - a sensation you can't believe unless you have experienced it.
"I have been in earthquakes before, but nothing like this."
Santa Cruz Stake Pres. Bradley M. Macdonald was in bed when the quake hit, convalescing after a minor injury. As his home began to shiver and then jerk, he rolled from bed and avoided a cascade of several hundred pounds of falling books that landed on his bed.
He and his wife, Beatrice, "stood in a doorway just clenching each other; we got bounced around the house just really quite bad," he said. "I've lived here for 68 years and never felt anything like this in my life, ever, anywhere."
Inspecting his home, he found it had been shifted a foot of its foundation. A few days later, a volunteer crew of local members were able to put the house back on its footings.
On the summit, Alma Branch members James and Janet Metcalf and their children, Peter, 18, James, 10, and Jacob, 5, were about to celebrate Brother Metcalf's 50th birthday with a lemon chicken dinner. Their home was a local landmark designed by a noted architect a century ago. An old barn to be demolished stood near the home.
Before anyone had taken a bite, the shock wave hit.
"It didn't give us any warning," said Sister Metcalf. "It was just yank, yank, yank. We just got thrown back and forth. We had dishes and things flying all over - china and everything scooting back and forth with us. Jacob was sitting in corner when he felt something bump his shoulder - it was our "Families Are Forever" sign.
When the temblor had stilled, they went outside and saw their home was off its foundation and ruined, two new cars were crushed in the garage, and ironically, the old barn still stood.
Brother Metcalf's family followed the procedures of their earthquake drill and camped in an opening area near the home while he jumped into his pickup and sped to check on his home teaching families.
The first family he visited, Alice and Aubrey Kelch, were standing outside their home. It, too, had been destroyed.
"Thank goodness for home teachers," she said later. And added, "I've been bucked off horses that weren't as wild as that jolt was."
The next day, Leo C. Haney, San Jose Regional Welfare Agent, arrived. He met with Alma Branch Pres. Allan H. Nelson and looked beyond statements that "We're just fine - we don't need help." After discussing the situation, Pres. Nelson agreed as Haney ordered supplies and called dozens of volunteers to the branch. The volunteers later were to literally shave weeks off the recovery time for the families, and assist many non-members.
After Brother Haney left, Pres. Nelson fought back a little emotion, hugged a branch member, and said, "Thank goodness for the Church."