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30 years later: A wild shake, a big story and a forgotten pizza



By Dana Williams

If you were on Guam 30 years ago, on Aug. 8, 1993, you remember. If you weren’t, you’ve probably heard stories from people who were.


We all have stories.


It was a quiet Sunday evening interrupted by a minute of terror. Then chaos.


The concrete buildings, which usually protect us from pounding winds and torrential rains, shook and cracked as the ground rumbled.


I was a 27-year-old assistant local news editor at Pacific Daily News. Before the earthquake, I was far ahead of schedule for the day.


I decided to get a pizza to share with photographer Ed Crisostomo and reporter Geri Amparo, who is now known as Guam Compiler of Laws Geraldine Cepeda. I grabbed a pen and a notebook and walked to Geri’s desk to ask what she wanted on the pizza, then went to the photo room.


A note about 1993: We didn’t have digital cameras or cell phones or internet. We had landlines and radios and pagers. Photographers processed film and made prints from negatives.


The photo room contained a separate darkroom accessed through a circular spinning door. I called to Ed, letting him know I was ordering pizza. At 6:34 p.m., the door spun open, and Ed stepped out.


The shaking started. As the quake intensified, Ed and I crouched under a small makeshift desk, and my mind raced.


We were on the second floor of the PDN building in Hagåtña, and there was a lot of concrete above us. I thought about the news stories from the Baguio quake in 1990, how two people survived for 11 days in rubble. I thought of all the hotels in Tumon and realized there probably wasn’t enough heavy equipment on the island to dig us all out.


People were screaming. Someone ran down the hall. Ed and I looked at each other.


I prayed, thanking God for a wonderful life of 27 years, for the love, the laughter, my family and friends. A sweet life. I knew it was over.

The shaking stopped.


We had news to cover.

* * *

Ed was finishing an assignment when he heard me call out to him. He remembers stepping through the darkroom door.


“I think I was like, ‘Pizza sounds great.’ And then it happened.”


Ed was used to earthquakes. He said he saw the pavement roll during a six-point-something as a kid. This was different.


“We froze for a few seconds, and then your brain took over and said, ‘Try to get underneath a desk or something solid.’ So you squeezed under that little makeshift table, and I looked at you, and I think I tried to squeeze in too, but I was thinking ‘Is this really going to help?’ We were on the second floor of a 10-story building.”


Ed considered running outside, but the exit led to a parking structure.


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“We had no choice but to go under that desk. And then it just kept shaking. And shaking. And shaking. And shaking. And my thought was, ‘When is this gonna stop?’ Of course, back of my mind is, ‘Oh yeah, spot news! I’m ready to go get some major pictures. This is great.’”


Ed’s journalistic instincts were tempered by his survival instincts.


“It kept shaking, and shaking, and my spot news joy was like, ‘No, no, no. This is bad.’ I was scared. And I saw you, and you were scared.”


Books and equipment flew from overhead cabinets.


The shaking stopped.


Ed grabbed his camera and went to the Agana Shopping Center Pay-Less, where “everything had flown off the shelves. There was glass on the floor.”


As he headed for Tumon, he heard a radio announcement warning people to stay away from lower areas because of a tsunami warning. “I said, ‘Ah, it’s spot news, I’m going to go down there anyway.’ So I went.”

* * *


After she gave me her pizza order, Geri went back to work.


“I was typing, and then the monitor kind of moved. And I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s all right,’ and it kept moving.”


A coworker put his hand on her shoulder and said, “Get out now!”


As the quake grew stronger, he pulled her from her desk and they stood in a doorframe,


“I remember thinking, ‘OK, this is it. Hail Mary…’ and then I couldn’t remember the rest of it. I literally could not remember the rest of the prayer.”


Monitors fell from desks with each jolt of the quake.


“It was like, boom, boom, boom, boom,” she said. “And then nothing.”


The shaking stopped.


“When it finally settled down, I forgot who said it, I just heard somebody’s voice ring out, ‘Well there goes the front page!’”


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Back then, if we wanted to know the strength of an earthquake, we called geophysicist Paul Hattori of the U.S. Geological Survey.


Geri couldn’t get through. Phones were down. She had a solution.


“I know where he lives. I grew up with that family, so I can drive up there.”


She set out for Potts Junction.


“I remember driving up there, no lights at all. Everything was out,” she said. When she reached the home and found Hattori, he grabbed a flashlight and brought her to another nearby house that contained the USGS equipment.


“I remember him opening up the room and you couldn't see anything, and looking at his equipment.” He had a preliminary reading, but the equipment had been damaged in the quake.


On her way back, she stopped by the Guam Memorial Hospital emergency room.


“It was crazy ridiculous. I mean, there were people standing outside. And I remember there was a man with like, I don't know what it was, a towel or a shirt or something on his head, and he was bleeding,” she said. The man told her he was at a hotel when something fell and hit him.

* * *


Phone service was sporadic, but I was able to reach some of the news staff, check on them and give them assignments. Those I couldn’t reach just showed up in the newsroom. That is what journalists do.


Before the internet, we used libraries to look up background on stories. Even the smallest newspapers had archive systems with rows of filing cabinets full of news clips. Shelves were stacked with yearbooks, phone directories and bound copies of old papers.


A coworker and I opened the door of the Pacific Daily News library and found the filing cabinets had been knocked down, the books and other reference materials thrown from the shelves and scattered on the floor.


We started lifting the heavy cabinets, looking at the drawer labels that would lead us to the “Earthquakes” folder.

* * *


Geri and the other reporters were filing stories, and we were closing in on deadline.


Ed was still in Tumon. “I went up to the Reef Hotel, and I noticed a firetruck there. So that’s where I went in. And I noticed the firefighters,” he said.


Taxicabs were smashed under the concrete entryway of the hotel. He saw a firefighter “right in the center. He was looking for any survivors in the cab, anybody in the cab, and that’s when I started taking the shots. And it was like, I knew this happened in a split second because the cab’s light was still on and the engine was still on.”


Ed headed back, rushed into the lab and came out with a photograph that was picked up by the Associated Press and shared with news outlets around the world. Two firefighters crouching in front of crushed taxicabs at a doomed hotel.


It ran on the front page of the Aug. 9, 1993, Pacific Daily News, along with the story of how there were no deaths and relatively few serious injuries from the strongest quake recorded anywhere in the world since 1989.


The quake measured between 8.1 and 8.2 on the Richter scale. Today, the official measurement is a 7.8 on the moment magnitude scale, a more reliable estimate of earthquake size.


* * *


There was a point that night, between deadlines, when I closed my eyes, gave thanks and thought, “It’s all gravy from here on out. Everything after today is bonus time.”


I have thought of that day often through the years, and when I do, I remind myself to be grateful for the bonus time. A few years ago, the bonus time exceeded the pre-quake time.


That is a blessing.


And after 30 years, Ed has given me the answer to the question I started to ask in 1993: pepperoni and extra cheese.


Dana Williams is a longtime journalist who has worked as an editor and reporter for news organizations in Guam, Hawaii and South Florida. Send feedback to dana@datadana.com





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