By Rev. Norman Fong

April 24, 2018

April 18th marks the anniversary of the 1906 earthquake. 112 years ago San Francisco was almost destroyed by the 7.9 earthquake and fires that roared across the City. Half the City became homeless overnight--almost 400,000 people! City leaders even tried to move Chinatown to the Bayview (but that’s a story for another day). Last week, Mayor Lee was honored & remembered during the earthquake anniversary and Anita Lee (Mayor Ed’s Lee’s Wife) got a very special Fire Helmet from the Fire Department.

I want to use this anniversary as an opportunity for all of us to be more prepared and ready for the next earthquake. Let’s first think back to the more recent 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Do you remember where you were exactly & what did you do immediately. How did you contact your family members. Were you stuck in Oakland because parts of the Bay Bridge fell? What about that night when the electricity was out and the phones weren’t working? How did you get milk for your baby the next day?

1906 earthquake

I was living at Cameron House at the time and had just picked my 2 year old son from the childcare center at our church. We were walking on Joice Alley when the earthquake hit. I remember immediately covering my son next to a wide wooden bollard and as I heard the light bulbs crashing down in the basketball court yard, I also looked up and actually saw the buildings swaying! Thank God the bricks didn’t break off from all the buildings around us.

We rushed to Cameron House to make sure everyone else was OK and since we had no electric power, I remember going down to the basement to try to find as many camping lights and flashlights as I could to prepare for the night.

That evening, we used the camp lights (luckily we had a lot because we often took youth camping during the summer), we lit up the big community room and I remember so many of our neighbors & friends coming in at night to see if everyone was OK but also, to see if the Cameron House building was OK. Our neighbors thought we had electricity. I also remember a few youth in ski masks walking down Sacramento Street (and luckily I knew who the kids were & knew their mom), I confronted them, “You are Not going to rob the stores – go back home”.

The next day, I remember some mom’s that live in Chinatown who asked where they could get milk for their babies. Most of the Chinatown stores & restaurants locked their doors & closed down. I remember taking a couple moms to Cala Foods on Hyde Street as they were open because they had a backup generator. I kept thinking, in the future, we need to get all the restaurants, pharmacies & stores to share what they have during the next earthquake but have some government forms for people to sign so they could get their money back. I figure the food & milk would spoil anyway and some folks will need their medicine.

Today my family has a designated friend to call in Sacramento, CA to say we are OK too in case of an earthquake. Even at work we have a designated community center to call in Los Angeles. The NICOS Chinese Health Coalition has a neighborhood Plan. Portsmouth Square is where people should go for help or to volunteer to help when there is a big earthquake. One of my best memories the year after the quake was getting the fire department to do Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT) Trainings. It was so cool to see our SRO Seniors learn how to put out fires by using Fire Extinguishers (don’t worry, it was just a small fire in a big bucket).

1906 earthquake on clay street

norman fong anita lee

Do me a favor everyone who reads this article, - please make a family earthquake preparedness plan. Just go online - information about making a preparedness plan is available. Do you have a 3 day supply of water stored in a bag with duct tape, scissors & plastic garbage bags? Or even in your car if you have one? History teaches us to be prepared but also, for all you young people out there - Can you plan to help out too? We have so many seniors in SROs in Chinatown, we will surely need your help! Come to Portsmouth Square to volunteer (after you find out your family is safe). Chinatown as a community has stayed here through two big earthquakes and we want to make sure it lasts forever. “Take care everybody”.

Originally published in Sing Tao Daily on April 22, 2018

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