Santa Cruz’s rebuilding process continues 30 years after Loma Prieta earthquake

Damage from the Loma Prieta earthquake was far reaching. Some hard hit areas included the Santa Cruz Mountains, Watsonville, and downtown Santa Cruz.

30 years later the rebuilding process continues. 

When the earthquake struck, it sent people scrambling for cover.

In the Santa Cruz Mountains, it created fissures 7-feet deep and 1,000-feet long.

In Boulder Creek, houses slid from their foundations, and some slid down the hillsides. In Watsonville, tent cities sprung up to house the thousands who were displaced.

And in Santa Cruz, the Pacific Garden Mall, the heart of downtown, was destroyed.

Historian Ross Gibson had been there in the moments before the quake. 

"I suddenly discovered that I had seen the last minutes of the old mall. Aand it was really the end of an era. That's what was so heartbreaking," Gibson said.

He has since built a memorial, honoring the five lives that were lost and the 18-historic buildings destroyed.

Gary Patton, the chair of the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors at the time, remembers the aftermath.

"We were all in crisis-response mode. Highway 17 was shut down for several days at least, all the power was off in the county for several days," he said.

He said the process of rebuilding wasn't easy or quick.

"We're right across the street from the last hole in Pacific Garden Mall being filled in with new construction. It isn't completed yet 30 years later. So yeah, it took a long time," Patton said. 

But what people here remember most about the Loma Prieta Earthquake, is how people acted afterward: the volunteers, the support, the determination to help local businesses even when they had no buildings.

Patton said, "Out on the parking lots, the city put up tents. I went down to buy from these stores. And we survived. The community really came together."