OAKLAND, Calif. - The city of Oakland commemorated the 42 people who died on the collapsed Cypress freeway, when the magnitude 6.9 Loma Prieta earthquake struck 30 years ago today.
"You'd have collapse all the way down to the roadway, the other side would be up seven feet at an angle," recalled retired former Oakland Deputy Fire Chief Mark Hoffman.
Hoffman and his crew were the first first responders on the scene. The memories of what he saw and did are still vivid 30 years later.
"People looking over the edge. Cars that had gone off the road bed and augered into the ground," he said. "Car roofs had collapsed down into window sills of the doors. That was where, okay, maybe some would survive. Some people had and some hadn't."
Oakland officials paused to remember what happened at the Cypress.
"The fact that right here 42 people perished in the Cypress collapse. That recognition was so sobering, so saddening," said Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf.
Hoffman recalls being alerted to one particular car. "For five hours we wrestled with getting a little girl and boy out of a car where the mother who had been driving and a friend had been killed. The cross-member (beam) Had dropped onto the head of the car," said Hoffman.
A doctor had to amputate the boy's leg to free him.
"I brought up a chainsaw and was prepared to do it myself." Hoffman said.
But in the moments after the collapse Hoffman saw people risking their own safety to help.
"A lot of firefighters did really good work. A lot of civilians did even better work. They don't have training.
"We were starting to see other people getting people out of cars with hand tools."
The Cypress was later demolished. The ground level Mandela Parkway has replaced it, opening up a community the imposing Cypress had divided.