The face of Santa Cruz's quake

Last updated 05:00 07/05/2011

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The defining image of Santa Cruz's earthquake was the blood-spattered face of Ford's department store assistant Edith Dominguez, being dragged from the rubble, trailing a barely attached foot. The elderly woman she was serving was crushed to death.

Son Michael Dominguez was kitting up for tennis when the quake struck. It wasn't till three hours later that he tracked down his mother in hospital.

She couldn't talk, but there was no mistaking the meaning of her hand squeeze when he told her the doctors wanted to amputate her damaged leg.

They saved her leg, but she spent three months in hospital and always had to walk with a cane.

She had recently left her husband after 43 years but the earthquake brought them closer together. He would visit daily and paid for an extra room to be built on to Michael's brother's house.

With the money from her injury settlement, Mrs Dominguez bought a comfortable condominium to replace her poky apartment.

She was never quite the same, but there were small comforts, Michael Dominguez says.

"We had a nice little Christmas in the hospital, my mum enjoyed that. Her joy was her grandkids.

"We put her on a plane to San Diego in a wheelchair to see my daughter [Michele, 45] graduate. She got to go to Stanford [University] to see my son [John, 39] graduate. She got to see Michele get married."

Edith Dominguez died of cancer in 1995.


Others had a more complete recovery. When psychotherapist Elene Johas Teener's evening group arrived just after the earthquake, they were expecting to process the experience. But Ms Johas Teener, 57, was in no position to be disseminating calm.

She was at her Aptos home with a client when the tremor  centred about 2km away  popped the skylights, cleaved the house in two and jammed a fence against the front door.

"I can still hear the house creak and the beams moaning and twisting. My client was first of all silent and then couldn't stop screaming. I was in acute shock."

She spent the first night in the car, freaking out with every aftershock. The next night she gathered her cats and parked her small RV in the Safeway carpark  where she slept along with 300 other frightened self-evacuees. It was a week before she could face the destruction at home.

"The building was like somebody put stuff in a blender and flung it out all over the room: beds, dressers, sidetables, lamps, rocking chairs. Everything just helter-skelter everywhere.

"You're almost catatonic. There's so much to do you can't do anything."

Her neighbour helped her clear up. Then left town for good.

By some miracle, Ms Johas Teener had ordered earthquake insurance just nine days earlier. She hadn't even paid for the policy, but the company honoured the agreement.

She received $90,000 to strip the house to its skeleton, put in shear walls and continuous beams and bolt the structure to the foundation.

She made the kitchen useable and camped in one bedroom for 10 months. She had only just remodelled the house to add an office, but had to move her practice to a one-storey office building while the repairs continued.

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With every aftershock, the fear returned. She learned to measure magnitude by the groan of the beams, the noise of air rushing under the door.

"It took me years to not be scared when the bus drives by and the door rattles. I think the community healed by talking about it a lot."

Ms Johas Teener has since moved several times. Every time she's paid out US$5000 to $10,000 to strengthen the house. The latest is a gorgeous wooden bungalow in leafy suburban Santa Cruz, where she lives with her husband and sons Noah, 15 and Ben, 11, dog Cody and countless cats.

It was a rough track back to normality  it was five years before she went to San Francisco, because she was afraid to cross bridges or drive under freeways. But her message to the people of Canterbury is that the fear does fade.

"I was a nervous wreck for a long time. But it did get incrementally better all the time. You started to feel safe even when there were aftershocks. You started to feel some sort of control. It was the out-of-control feeling that was outrageous."


October 17, 1989: Loma Prieta earthquake hits at 5.04pm. It was initially measured at 7.1 on the Richter scale, but later downgraded to 6.9. The quake was centred near Loma Prieta peak in the Santa Cruz mountains, 14km northeast of Santa Cruz city.

November 24, 1989: Santa Cruz puts up nine tent pavilions to keep 25 central city businesses going during Thanksgiving holiday season. The tents remained for three years. The district lost 206 businesses because of the quake.

December 1989: City establishes Vision Santa Cruz (VSC), a committee of residents, civic and business leaders, to develop a new vision for the central city area.

May 1990: VSC's First Principles planning vision adopted by city council.

November 1990: Santa Cruz County voters approve Measure E, introducing a half-cent sales tax increase. It raises more than $20 million over six years for earthquake recovery.

September 1991: City council adopts VSC's detailed Downtown Recovery Plan and streetscape concept.

By September 1992: 34 pre-quake businesses had reopened downtown, 49 new businesses had set up downtown and 13 businesses remained in the pavilions. Six buildings had been repaired, three completely rebuilt, and seven were under construction or renovation.

November 1992: Last of the merchants leave the tent pavilions. The new St George Hotel and Locust St parking garage open.

1993: Pacific Ave reopens. By 1994, 147 new post-quake businesses have opened downtown.

1995: Nine-screen movie theatre opens on site of the former Gottschalks department store in Pacific Ave, returning life to the downtown area at night.

- The Dominion Post


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