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a sad bit of seismic history

By enelson
Friday, March 28th, 2008 at 6:09 pm in Misc. Transportation.

The e-mail gave me sort of a jolt this morning. I’m usually happy to hear from readers; first, it’s reassuring to know that they still exist; second, I appreciate feedback on my work and thirdly, I often learn something new.

This wasn’t new, but it was startling both in content and tone. Greg Wright, who had read this week’s update on Bay Bridge construction, wrote this:

Why does the media continue to report that a woman was killed when a section of the Bay Bridge fell during the Loma Prieta earthquake? The woman died because she panicked and attempted to return to Oakland by driving the wrong way on the bridge, not noticing that the section had fallen. She caused her own death. The bridge collapse did not. My sister was on the bridge as well that day and she made it home just fine.

Not having been here in 1989, my habit is to just repeat the standard background line in my Bay Bridge retrofit stories, that a “section of the bridge collapsed, killing a motorist.”

I vaguely rememberd seeing the video of the car going over the edge, but this e-mail prompted me to do a little research on this bit of history that pales to the horrific collapse of the Cypress Structure at the same moment.

Indeed, the video and eyewitness accounts tell of a driver, apparently trying to jump the gap or perhaps simply confused and unaware that the gap was there until it was too late.

In the video, taken person who had left her stranded vehicle, a pickup truck is following the ill-fated driver, but stops before the edge.

On Oct 19, 1989, an Oakland Tribune story said this:

“A woman who died when she apparently tried to drive her car over the gaping hole in the roadway was identified yesterday as Anamafi Moala, 23, of Berkeley.”

I doubt that anyone knows whether she intended to perform an aerial stunt to get across the gap. A caption on the Chronicle’s website says, simply, “Anamafi Moala died after her car plunged into the gap.”

I think that may be a safer statement. The car clearly was driven into the gap, but we can’t ask the driver why.

More importantly, it brought me closer to the the “motorist” I have referred to numerous times. I didn’t know whether it was a man or a woman, how old she was or where she was from. She was just a fact of Bay Bridge history to me.

I don’t know that much more about her now, but from now on, when I mention that bit of history, I at least have a name, gender, age and city for the victim. And if a person falls into an unexpected hole in a bridge, I don’t think we ought to blame the driver, earthquake-panicked or not.

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