As Californians were heading home to dinner 25 years ago Friday, a magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck near San Francisco, buckling a section of the Bay Bridge, leveling homes, and destroying a double-decker stretch of Interstate 880. The entire nation got a glimpse of the massive quake as it rocked Candlestick Park during Game 3 of the 1989 World Series, .
Emergency workers fanned out, rescuing survivors trapped in their cars and battling flames that threatened to destroy neighborhoods. By the time the Loma Prieta Earthquake was over, 63 people were dead, thousands were injured and millions were shaken.
Twenty-five years later, engineers at an earthquake lab at the University of Nevada, Reno, are reenacting the quake, even simulating a bridge with trucks on it to learn how to build one that won't buckle. The Rossen Reports team obtained exclusive access to the lab, where high-tech shake-tables simulate different magnitudes of quakes to see what happens inside rooms. The goal is to figure out how to build earthquake-proof homes, offices and skyscrapers.
"It's like we have earthquakes on demand," said Ian Buckle, director of the university's Center of Civil Engineering Earthquake Research.
To demonstrate, lab engineers built a room on one of their shakers, complete with furniture. Then they hit the button to simulate what it would be like to experience a magnitude 6.9 quake on the first floor of a building. Walls rattled, glasses broke, objects fell.
Buckle offered advice on what to do in an earthquake. "Duck and cover is the law of the land, which is what kids do in elementary schools with desks."
But don't leave the house, he advised, and don't stand in a doorframe. "It's folklore," Buckle said. "Don't do that; the door may not hold. Stay away from doors."
When the lab simulated what a quake would be like 10 stories up, the results were even more dramatic: Furniture crashed down in seconds, the walls shook, and everything broke. But even in the face of such destruction, Buckle said it was better to stay where you are then to try and get out and run down the stairs.
"Stay put, duck and cover," Buckle said. "Don't run out."