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Woman, 91, Remembers Worse Jolt

October 19, 1989

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ When the San Francisco Bay area was slammed this week by a catastrophic earthquake, Elsie Keating was one of the few who remembered one even more terrible.

″This was a really heavy one ... (but) 1906 was the worst one,″ the 91- year-old woman said Wednesday from her daughter’s house in suburban Concord, where she was recovering from injuries suffered in Tuesday’s quake.

″The city was in flames. We were all sitting on the sidewalk. ... There was no water, no medical care. We are all advised to go to higher ground. I was 7. You didn’t know where to run.″

The memory of a stronger jolt didn’t make Tuesday any less terrifying, Mrs. Keating said.

″I was sitting in a rocking chair. It started to swing and sway. Finally it gave a big jolt ... like a ship on the sea,″ she said.

She fell from the chair, hurting her wrist, fingers, knee and leg. Her screams alerted the manager of the senior citizen’s apartment complex, who helped carry her to her bed. She spent the night without electricity in a dark, frightening city.

″It was horrifying,″ she said. ″Every two hours, an aftershock. A fear, a terrible feeling, to think everything will be destroyed.″

On Wednesday morning, her daughter, Jeanette Williams, and Mrs. Williams’ husband took her into their home, 30 miles northeast of San Francisco, to recover.

The daughter of immigrants from Austria and Hungary, she was 1 when her family moved from New York’s Long Island to San Francisco. Her father, who spoke little English, did maintenance work in theaters here.

Six years after her family arrived, the mightiest earthquake in U.S. history struck. The 1906 quake, estimated at 8.3 on the open-ended Richter scale, was followed by an even more destructive fire. The temblor was more than 10 times as powerful as Tuesday’s quake, which registered 6.9.

″The buildings sunk into the ground,″ Mrs. Keating recalled. ″My mother and I were walking around, going to Twin Peaks with a blanket,″ she said of the scenic area.

Her father went down into the fire area with another relative to clean and stack bricks, she said.

Their Mission District house was the only one on the block to survive, but they had to seek higher ground to escape the smoke, she said. They moved to another neighborhood, and she has remained in San Francisco all her life, working at times as a typist and taking part in dog shows. She also has attended some of the annual commemorations of the April 18, 1906, quake.

Like most Californians, she lives near active fault lines in the earth and has gotten used to periodic earthquakes. But when Tuesday’s quake began, she said, ″I said to myself, ’This has gone too far.‴

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