At 5:04 p.m. last Tuesday, precisely a week after the devastating earthquake, church bells pealed throughout San Francisco to mark the city's survival and recovery. But a few churches declined to join in the commemoration, which had been requested by Mayor Art Agnos, because the reverberations from the tolling might have brought cracked belfries tumbling down. About 90 minutes after the clangor of the bells died out came the ominous rumbling of yet another aftershock, one of thousands that have done little discernible damage but are likely to keep rattling the nerves of residents for weeks.
The sequence was almost too patly symbolic of the situation of San Francisco and its surrounding Bay Area. On the surface, the city had almost returned to normal. By subway under the bay, by ferry across it and by circuitous routes around the area, the vast majority of employees found their way back to reopened businesses, despite the continuing closure of the San Francisco- Oakland Bay Bridge and two freeways. The colossal traffic jams that planners feared never developed. Tons of rubble from collapsed walls and shattered windows had been hauled off by a fleet of dump trucks that came from as far away as Palo Alto (35 miles). Virtually all San Francisco streets were open, though yellow tape still closed off hundreds of sidewalks adjacent to cracked buildings that might yet collapse. The World Series resumed Friday night at Candlestick Park, and even the tourist business showed signs of revival. To prepare for a meeting of 5,000 plastic surgeons, the Moscone Convention Center was forced last week to evict 1,000 homeless people, who were shifted to Army barracks in the Presidio and to the helicopter carrier U.S.S. Pelileu, which served as a floating dormitory. By apt coincidence, the Society for Traumatic Stress Studies held its convention, as scheduled, in San Francisco last week.
But the area was speckled with damage that will take weeks or even months to clean up and repair. The shattered portion of the I-880 freeway in Oakland will have to be torn down, and the Embarcadero Freeway, a double-decker that skirts downtown San Francisco, is riddled with cracks in the support columns. Officially, it is supposed to reopen next spring, but one structural engineer who has examined it says, "I'd never go back on that s.o.b. again. No matter how much they shore it up, there is no way to make it safe." Pier 45, the city's main fishing pier, was closed because inspectors found deep fissures running the length of the pier floor. With no alternative pier to sail from, the 150-boat commercial-fishing fleet has been idled just as the herring and Dungeness crab season was about to open. Other damage ranged from cracks in the paving of the main runway at Oakland International Airport to the rotting of 125,000 crates of strawberries at Watsonville, in the South Bay area, spoiled when electrical failure knocked out refrigeration equipment. And somewhere in Oakland 200 snakes and lizards, including a 6-ft. python, are at large, having escaped from twisted cages at the East Bay Vivarium. Fortunately, none are poisonous.