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Remembering the Loma Prieta Earthquake
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A version of this article originally appeared on the Silicon Valley Red Cross Web site.
October 16, 2009

Twenty years ago today, the lives of many Californians got an unexpected jolt. The San Francisco Bay Area was struck by a massive 6.9 magnitude earthquake, killing dozens and injuring many more. But what was a tragedy also became a testament to the willingness of individuals, communities and a whole country to come to the help of another.  

Loma Prieta earthquake damage
In San Francisco, California, the Loma Prieta earthquake caused extensive damage to homes, cars and other personal property.
Joseph Matthews/American Red Cross

After the quake, American Red Cross disaster workers provided almost instant access to desperately needed resources. Volunteers from the Santa Clara Valley Chapter and the Palo Alto Area Chapter (both organizations are now known as the Silicon Valley Chapter) were dispatched throughout Santa Clara County, where building damage and destruction was high, but fatalities and injuries were low.

The first priority of the local Red Cross chapters was to set up shelters and service centers. Each shelter offered warm beds, first aid, stress counseling and a platoon of volunteers willing to be there and listen. For those without food, water or power in Santa Clara County, the Red Cross served more than 32,000 meals. Some recipients, like a young, professional woman, had never asked for such help before:

 “At first I felt dehumanized…standing in a soup line. My home, everything I was connected to, was gone. But the Red Cross not only offered help, they did it with compassion.”

Many shelters and service centers were open for only a short period of time; however, some remained operational for several months, such as the Redwood Estates Fire Station service center in the Santa Cruz Mountains, which served food to mountain residents without a working water system. This service center remained open until Christmas Day.

In total, the Red Cross opened 45 shelters, providing temporary housing to over 6,000 individuals. They also assisted more than 14,000 families through service centers and financial aid. Thanks to an outpouring of donations from throughout the country, the Red Cross raised more than $76 million to assist the survivors of Loma Prieta.

Loma Prieta earthquake damage
Loma Prieta earthquake damage
Joseph Matthews/American Red Cross

Much of the success of Loma Prieta disaster relief efforts was due to the cooperation and coordination between various relief groups, like the Red Cross, and government agencies. Organizations such as FEMA, the California state government, the United States federal government and many others stepped up to respond with volunteers and financial assistance.

Many local residents also provided a great service by volunteering to help with relief efforts. Altogether, more than 31,000 volunteers stepped up to help the relief effort. President George H.W. Bush was one of those who witnessed this spirit of volunteerism. As reported in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, during his visit to Santa Cruz just days after the quake, President Bush remarked, “God bless those volunteers, the enormous Red Cross effort in this relatively small community.”  

Relief efforts continued well beyond the initial emergency response. In Santa Clara County, the Red Cross instituted multiple relief projects to help rebuild the community over the following years. These projects included restoration of water services and rebuilding or relocating families and individuals left homeless by the earthquake. More than $2 million was spent on such recovery programs in Santa Clara County.

Find out how you can prepare for earthquakes and other natural disasters on RedCross.org.

About the American Red Cross:
The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies nearly half of the nation's blood; teaches lifesaving skills; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a charitable organization — not a government agency — and depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit www.redcross.org or join our blog at http://blog.redcross.org.

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