SANTA CRUZ (KPIX 5) — Downtown Santa Cruz is a much different place than it was 30 years ago when the Loma Prieta earthquake struck the town.
But survivors say it’s something they will never forget.
“It was devastating, it was scary. It was like a bomb went off,” said Patty Zoccoli, who’s family has run an Italian delicatessen on Pacific Avenue for decades. “It was one of the scariest days of my life going through that earthquake.”
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Santa Cruz was only about ten miles away from the epicenter. Many of the downtown’s brick buildings collapsed, including the Coffee Roasting Company where two people were killed, and Bookshop Santa Cruz.
“Building after building was damaged. Three deaths happened down here from buildings collapsing on people. It was really a horrible, horrible situation,” said Neal Coonerty, a former mayor and Santa Cruz Councilmember who owns Bookshop Santa Cruz.
The two main highways into Santa Cruz were blocked for several days by landslides on Highway 17 and a broken bridge on Highway 1.
“I think Santa Cruz was an afterthought at that point. It took people a few days to realize what happened down here,” said Aptos resident Chuck Torey.
A small memorial now stands on Pacific Avenue as a reminder of the devastation and loss of life.
“The silver lining is the community came together and helped each other,” Coonerty said.
Bookshop Santa Cruz, one of the few downtown businesses that survived the earthquake and is still open to this day.
The shop ran out of a tent for three years. But would not still be open if not for customers who risked their own lives to save thousands of books from the rubble.
“400 people were lined up, ready to sign the waiver and come in and get the books out. They really did save us,” Coonerty said.
Patty Zoccoli’s family ran their deli out of a trailer, but were able to reopen in their same location 18 months after the quake.
“The community spirit was definitely there, people were supporting downtown,” Zoccoli said.
The buildings came back, some with steel crossmembers built in to survive the next quake.
The Coffee Roasting Company site was the vacant for the past three decades, but today, a condo building is now finally rising in the space.
“That’s the final piece of the earthquake rebuilding,” Coonerty said.
The final piece only just now taking shape three decades after the earthquake.