Digging Out, Looking Back

One year after the killer quake, the San Francisco area is still repairing the damage -- and facing big bills

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On top of San Francisco's landmark Ferry Building last week, steeplejack Jody Mancuso eased herself carefully to the tip of a new white flagpole and crowned it with the same gold-painted sphere that was knocked wildly askew on Oct. 17, 1989, by the strongest earthquake to strike the city since 1906. This week the American flag will be hoisted there once again, to mark the anniversary of last year's temblor, which registered 7.1 on the Richter scale, killed 63 people, injured 3,757 others and caused at least $6 billion in damage.

Reconstruction has been slowed by bureaucratic delays and seemingly endless feasibility studies. A year after the quake, $630,568,706 in federal and state funds has been approved for relief and recovery. But only a third of the 38,000 people who requested emergency housing help have received it so far. Thousands more are still without permanent homes, a plight mainly affecting the poor because the quake destroyed so much low-cost housing.

In San Francisco's Marina district, where high-priced homes suffered heavy damage because many had been built on unstable landfills, low-rise apartment buildings still stand empty behind temporary scaffolding, awaiting new, reinforced foundations. The city's double-deck Embarcadero Freeway, which skirts the waterfront, remains closed. The board of supervisors voted narrowly to tear down the eyesore rather than rebuild it. But demolition has not yet begun because the city needs federal financing for much of the $135 million it will cost to replace the structure with a highway that runs partly underground.

While the most obvious damage has been repaired, huge expenditures still lie ahead. After a nine-month study, engineers have determined that the Golden Gate bridge, which apparently survived last year's quake in good shape, now needs a major retrofit of its anchorages and approaches that will cost at least $75 million. David Prowler, assistant to the city's chief administrative officer, says it is a "pretty good bet" that the board of supervisors will order a strengthening next year of some 2,000 unreinforced brick and masonry structures that are judged unsafe under current building codes. All told, such costs could approach $600 million.

Oakland has been slower than San Francisco to clean up. The 1 1/4-mile section of I-880 that collapsed, killing 42 people at the height of the evening rush hour, is long gone. But all over the city hundreds of small businesses remain boarded up, their plywood storefronts covered with layers of graffiti. Half a dozen residential hotels and more than 1,000 low-income rental units were lost in the quake, creating a severe shortage of affordable housing.

Oakland's beaux arts-style city hall, opened in 1914, remains uninhabitable. Repairing it will take three years and cost at least $80 million. Last week the Bishop of Oakland, the Most Rev. John S. Cummins, announced that St. Francis de Sales Cathedral and Sacred Heart Church would have to be torn down % because the diocese could not afford the $8 million price tag for repairing them.

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