Members tell of inspiration, close calls

Her prompt obedience may have saved life

Maren Nelson, 15, daughter of Alma Branch Pres. Allan H. Nelson, found obedience to her mother may have saved her from being an earthquake victim.

"I was downstairs doing my chemistry when my mother came down and asked me to make a salad for dinner. I said OK and went upstairs.

"I had taken the lettuce out of the refrigerator and I was getting a carrot when the house started shaking. I don't know what I did with the carrot.

"The shaking ground got more momentum so I dove under the table. My mom was standing in the doorway, on the deck. I told her to get under the table because the doorway was moving around. She got under the table and I pulled her in. There's a big beam in the kitchen; it pulled loose and I thought it would come down and hit the table, but it held.

"The oven came out and the floor gave way. We were both in tears. I wanted to go out the door [where her mother had been standing] but she said no.

"I didn't know till later the deck was gone and the house had fallen into the basement. We were both crying when we crawled out through the front door.

"I was thankful that I was upstairs making a salad and I wasn't downstairs. I could have easily been killed."

Caught between bridge and the freeway

Pres. Jeremiah I. Alip of the San Francisco West Stake likes to leave promptly from work on the nights he has stake bishopric meetings. One of those nights was Oct. 17, and the computer specialist was a little behind schedule, so at 4:55 he asked if his associate "would be kind enough" to carry his equipment to the office.

"He said he would, so I left the area, by way of highway 880. I take the upper deck to work, and the lower deck from work."

At 5:03, he had just crossed over the fateful stretch of freeway that would collapse a minute later, and was about to pay the dollar toll on the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge. Then the quake struck.

"It felt like I had one or two flat tires," he said. "I looked in the left lane and didn't see any cars coming. That led me to believe there was a problem on the bridge."

Cars on the bridge gradually turned around, or backed off, and he retraced his route on a higher freeway because 880 was blocked.

"I could look right down below at Interstate 880, and what a horrible sight I saw as the upper deck had collapsed."

He arrived home three hours later. That evening after surveying the stake for damage and completing his duties as stake president, he called his family around him for family prayer. "I was very fortunate," he said. "I had a lot of help. Ninety percent of my prayer was thanksgiving to the Lord."

Baby rescued from brick pile

The suddenness of the earthquake placed the year-old baby of Laurence and Cindy Howell of the San Lorenzo Valley Ward, Santa Cruz California Stake, in serious jeopardy.

Sister Howell was tending her year-old son, Craig, and a 14-month-old granddaughter, and cooking dinner, when the earthquake struck.

"My 1-year-old was walking around the living room when it hit, so I grabbed my granddaughter and stood in a doorway," she said.

"The whole house was really moving back and forth. Then our large brick chimney fell on the living room floor. My son was underneath the bricks. I could hear him screaming. He had about 400 pounds of bricks and mortar on his back. I dug the bricks out and must have gone into shock, because the next thing I remember, I was holding him in my arms standing outside.

"Our 14-year-old son, Mike, insisted we have family prayer before I took the baby to get medical attention. Mike was really strong."

Sister Howell said the baby had only a mild concussion and was fine, except that he caught cold after the family had to stay in the backyard overnight.

"He's pretty clingy, too," she said. "It is hard to lay him down."

Nearly struck by grandfather clock

Lily Smit of Monte Sereno and her husband, Warren, members of the Los Gatos Ward, enjoy doing temple work, and often take early morning hikes in their wooded neighborhood.

She described the ordeal of the earthquake and its aftershocks as "a terrifying experience. It is just awful. It upsets you inside."

She was sitting in the couch opposite a 300-pound grandfather's clock just before the earthquake began shaking their older, elevated home.

"I said `I think I will go fix supper,' " she recalled. "I stood up and - I don't know why - sat in my husband's lap. The clock fell right where I had been sitting. The house was shaking so I don't think I could have moved. The chimney fell in. I couldn't describe it - it was a big loud noise."

She said the gas main broke and the home was damaged, so she and her husband slept in the car that night. The next day, they shoveled out their broken china and dishes and cleaned up the house.

The solid oak clock remained on the floor, too heavy for them to lift. For some reason, its glass door was not even broken.

"We are grateful we didn't get hurt," she said. "I do believe my Father in Heaven was taking care of me."

Thoughts of family hurried him home

Bishop James R. Kloepfer of the Pajaro Valley 2nd Ward was driving toward Watsonville when he felt his car swaying. He noticed the cars around him were beginning to pull over and stop. He slowed for an instant, but, as he passed them and sped onto an overpass, he heard the radio announcer say, "I think we are having an earthquake." Then the radio went dead.

When he realized it was an earthquake, Bishop Kloepfer felt a pang of concern for his family and instead of slowing down, sped up.

"I wanted to get going," he said. "It was a good thing I sped up because I noticed in my rear view mirror a cloud of dust come up. I looked and saw that the overpass I had been on had collapsed."

Harrowing ordeal for a new mother

Francine Reeve of the Golden Gate Ward had extensive surgery following complications from giving birth to her first child.

Just a few days after she was released from the hospital, the earthquake rolled through her Marina apartment.

"I was feeding the baby on the couch in the bedroom when it hit. I grabbed the baby up and huddled over her in a doorway to keep her from being struck," she said.

"The earthquake felt like it lasted 30 seconds. After it stopped, I wasn't sure I wanted to go outside. Then the gas line blew, and a man came in and advised me to get out. I grabbed the baby, and my mother-in-law grabbed a stroller, and we hurried as fast as we could. I just forgot about the pain.

"We walked to the Marina green (park) and we felt safe there. At first we saw lots of smoke, then we could see flames shooting up. Three houses were on fire. I knew it wasn't our house, but being in the middle of it was very devastating.

"For a minute I was alone. I was feeling very sad; it was a very difficult moment. Then I saw my visiting teacher, Marianne Siepert, coming to get me. I was very grateful to her, and glad when we were out of there."

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