Uncertainty and Fear Grip Quake's 6,500 Homeless

Cathleen Decker reported from Los Angeles; Ashley Dunn, Tracey Kaplan, J. Michael Kennedy, Dean Murphy, Maria Newman, Louis Sahagun and Tracy Wilkinson from the Bay Area; Marita Hernandez from Watsonville, and Tina Daunt and Mary Lou Fulton from Whittier

With a last, longing look at a picture of her dead son, Beverly Godinez fled the earthquake-ravaged low-rent hotel she called home and joined the ranks of the Bay Area's homeless.

Her home had made it through Tuesday's initial quake, but 23 hours later, a terse voice burst over the hotel intercom and ordered its residents out. She grabbed a few clothes and a few dollars and rushed outside with her husband, Ferman Malbrough.

"I stared at that room and just felt lousy," Malbrough said. "We left everything."

Theirs are swelling ranks these days. At last count, more than 6,500 Bay Area residents were displaced by the earth's fury, and the number is sure to grow as more homes are inspected and declared uninhabitable.

The great quake was a leveler in more ways than one. It wrenched aside the elegant mansions of San Francisco's Marina District and their less extravagant yuppie counterparts; it cast apart the middle-class homes of people who, even before the quake, were without much financial cushion. It wrenched the poor of Oakland from their threadbare refuges; it made the already homeless even more so, ruining the cheap rooms that governments occasionally gave them to spend the night.

The rich and the poor, business people and laborers, city dwellers and urban homesteaders alike find themselves cast into a refugee's life of uncertainty. They nest in Red Cross shelters, in the living rooms of friends, in campers parked in front of their teetering homes. Few, if any, have any firm notion just yet of where they will go, or what life has yet to toss them.

A building inspector declared Oakland's low-income Hotel Hamilton unsafe and ordered out the 165 guests, a quarter of whom were long-term residents of the hotel into which Jacqueline Tolman and a group of investors had poured $750,000 in the last four years. Tolman had just begun to turn a profit a few months ago.

And she has more than an emotional sense of kinship with the hotel's displaced dozens--Tolman's own apartment, across the bay in the fractured Marina District, was destroyed. She is without a home and without a source of employment. She borrowed against a credit card to meet this week's payroll.

"Monday, I was worth $400,000," she said Saturday, smoking nervously and clad in a borrowed sweat shirt. "Today, I'm homeless and broke and I'm minus on my Visa card."

She laughed and cracked a joke. "What's that old saying? What man hath wrought God shall put asunder?"

If things are uncertain and roiling today, history suggests that the quake's homeless face even more heartbreak. Their brethren in the luckless fraternity of earthquake victims, the survivors of Coalinga and Whittier, predict for them months of dismaying journeys through myriad bureaucracies of federal and state aid, inspections and reconstruction--if they can even afford it.

"They've gone through the heroic phase," said Bob Semple, the assistant city manager in Coalinga when a devastating earthquake struck there in May, 1983. "Then there's a disillusionment phase. . . . Then they'll get into the rebuilding phase pretty soon--and that will last a lot longer."

In Coalinga, trailers sent by the federal government for temporary housing were occupied, in some cases, up to 18 months. The city's public services director said that only last year--five years after the quake--did Coalinga truly get back on its feet.

In Whittier, where the earth rebelled two years ago, some residents are still waiting for federal rebuilding loans--and others are just a little closer to normalcy after battling insurance companies, governments and construction firms.

Tuesday's damage is far from isolated: San Francisco reported $2 billion in property losses, including the destruction of 60 homes and apartment buildings in the Marina District. In Oakland, Mayor Lionel Wilson said 1,400 homes were damaged or destroyed and estimated the loss at $29.4 million.

In Santa Cruz County, building inspectors said 63 residences were destroyed and 138 were damaged in unincorporated territory alone. Watsonville estimated $1 million in damage was done to 100 homes, many of which were destroyed. Of the 450 homes in the hamlet of Loma Prieta in the Santa Cruz Mountains, near the quake's epicenter, 120 were destroyed or severely damaged. Only 141 escaped with minimal structural damage.

The number of people who might ultimately have to rebuild or adopt major repairs is not yet firm, although it is certain to remain in the thousands. For now, the Red Cross has opened 31 shelters across north-central California and has housed more than 5,000 people nightly. The rest are finding other forms of shelter. But in Whittier, the number of homeless peaked on the ninth day after the quake--a notch on the calendar not yet marked by those suffering in the Bay Area.

"What you're going to see is the refugee population slowly increase by virtue of building inspections being done and condemnations," said Robert Bolin, a New Mexico State University sociologist who is one of the leading researchers on disaster recovery.

The future is almost too daunting for the shellshocked survivors to consider. For now, they live day to day, coping with varying degrees of success.

Like any disaster, it has united those whose lives might have passed parallel, never interceding. There was Joe DiMaggio, Joltin' Joe, standing about 200th in line at a shelter in the Marina District on Friday to find out the fate of his house.

"I'm just like anybody else," said the legendary New York Yankees center fielder, looking sadly regal in pressed pants and a sports coat. "I'm just waiting in line."

That is the clarion call of all of the victims, but it is even more poignant for those who were slip-sliding toward financial disaster even before Tuesday.

Alejandra Martinez, a 26-year-old Watsonville farm worker, was already homeless when the earthquake struck. She and her husband were laid off from their jobs recently, as the harvest season came to a close. Unable to afford their apartment, they found refuge with their two small children in St. Patrick's Catholic Church. Until Tuesday.

The century-old brick church, with its tall spires one of the city's best-known landmarks, was hard hit. Cracked and near collapse, the church will be demolished.

Martinez and her family are homeless again--and they are not alone. Among the 2,000 residents left homeless in Watsonville were Martinez's two brothers and their families. The three families have a total of 14 children, ranging in age from 1 month to 14 years.

"We thought we would take refuge with my brothers, but now we're all homeless," she said in Spanish.

While they camp outdoors on a Watsonville High School field, Martinez and her husband are reeling.

"We have no work, no money and no homes," she said. "Who can we turn to? Who will listen to us? The adults can take it, but what about the children?"

Several hundred of the homeless remained camped in city parks and on the high school playing field Saturday despite a drenching rain that doubled to 1,200 the number of people seeking cots in the Red Cross shelter. The National Guard brought in tents that house 600 people.

Yet the compassion that has marked this expansive disaster was much in evidence in Watsonville. Maria Valdivia returned to her damaged home Saturday--bringing with her 10 people she had invited from the outdoor camp.

"It would be a sin to return to my comfortable home while they are suffering on the street," she said.

To the north, in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where the showers threaten to undermine already shaky hillsides, tent cities began to spring up. In seaside Santa Cruz, city officials Friday asked a visiting President Bush to send federally owned mobile homes--among other things--to shield the homeless from the elements. On Saturday, the mayor announced that a donor from the East had offered to send 5,000 trailers.

Across from the boardwalk, the Casa Del Rey retirement home was evacuated after the temblor. Many of the 150 residents, who range up to age 97, spent the night on mattresses laid out in the parking lot. By week's end, half had moved in with friends or family and the rest into shelters and a nearby motel.

Inside the motel, Fran Morse, 83, pondered the future. Where would she live? "That's the $64,000 question," she quipped.

To the north in San Francisco, the disparate elements of a city that typically celebrates its diversity have found shared homelessness a somewhat shaky experience.

Immediately after Tuesday's earthquake, the Red Cross opened Moscone Convention Center, located in a gritty section of the city, as a shelter for thousands of commuters stranded far from their East Bay homes. At least that was the theory.

When word circulated that the center was offering warm food and blankets, Moscone was flooded with about 1,000 people, some forced out of damaged low-rent hotels and some the chronically homeless.

The move hit relief workers who were unprepared to handle people with chronic medical and psychiatric needs. Many who flocked to the center were forced to quit--cold turkey--their alcohol and drug habits, and some were hospitalized.

"A lot of people are detoxing because they can't do their drugs," said Susan Bennett, a Red Cross coordinator.

The presence of some troubled residents added to the literal jitters already felt by the refugees.

Terri Watson, her husband and their 11-month-old daughter came to the Moscone shelter after learning that their apartment building was roped off by police. The apartment was close to the Marina District shelter, but Watson was too nervous about aftershocks to take cover there. When she got to Moscone, she was stunned by the homeless men stretched out in the reception area.

"I was bawling out loud," said Watson, 29, "and said to my husband, 'You can't leave me here.' "

But the center, which has a separate room set aside for women and children, has earned her reluctant praise.

"They supplied me with diapers, baby food, even stuffed animals," Watson said. "But I don't have a watch. Hardly anyone does around here. I'm losing track of time."

The Watsons are trying to move their belongings to her sister's home in Oregon. For them, San Francisco has lost its charm.

"I'm not going to chance going through another earthquake," she said.

Richard Paz and his wife Charlene are facing a more uncertain future. The couple and their three young children were moving to a new apartment when the quake hit. They have few financial reserves--both are unemployed.

"I don't know what we're going to do. I have no idea," said Richard Paz, absently pushing a baby stroller. "It's scary with the kids."

But the children have been shielded from at least some of the horror.

On Friday morning, the Moscone children awakened to find a magic castle in the banquet room, built from tables and butcher paper. They crawled inside and staged spontaneous puppet shows. Later that day, about 15 members of the San Francisco Giants baseball team stopped by, dropping off toys and food and drawing eye-shining applause.

The same homeless people who terrified Terri Watson are at the center of a major dilemma in San Francisco. Bob Prentice, the coordinator of homeless programs for San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos, said Friday that as many as 1,000 hotel rooms the city used to shelter the homeless had been lost.

"I suspect the numbers will keep inching up," Prentice said.

Thousands more who lived in low-cost apartments could also find themselves on the streets if structural engineers condemn their buildings, he said. "A lot of people living on the margins have lost their place to stay," said Prentice.

In Oakland, where spirits soared temporarily Saturday with the rescue of a man trapped for four days in the Nimitz Freeway rubble, things were no better for the homeless.

Half a block from the collapsed viaduct, Marjorie and John Anderson continued to stand guard over the bungalow where they lived for 45 years, the home where they raised three children. In 15 seconds of terror Tuesday, the white clapboard house built in 1867 slipped four feet off its foundation and slid into its own basement. The floors buckled upward, jamming shut all the doors. Front and back porches cracked off the house, and tidy balusters were strewn about the front yard.

Neighbors rescued Marjorie Anderson, her son and a granddaughter by kicking in the front door. And now, when they should be enjoying their retirement, the Andersons are sleeping in a donated camper and contemplating razing the house. The other day, utility workers came and tore away the electrical wires. One of the workers apologized.

An affable man with salt-and-pepper hair, John Anderson has to scoot under the wreckage a few times a day to retrieve his trembling, eight-month-old German shepherd puppy, Sparky. Anderson hopes to rebuild. At least he has insurance, and no one died--that makes him lucky, he said.

"We're gonna tear it down, haul it off and build another one," he said, as a chill breeze snapped nastily. "What else can you do? If the wind don't blow this sucker down tonight."

His wife spends much of her time sitting in the camper outside her home--"her whole life," as her daughter called it. "When things like this happen, sometimes they don't dawn on you for a few days," Anderson said. "It's just starting to dawn on my wife that she could have gotten crushed inside."

Their fellow Oakland refugees, Beverly Godinez and Ferman Malbrough, spend their days at a shelter at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, two of nearly 190 people packed into the school auditorium.

The days are filled with the din of humanity, a haze of conversations overlaid by fear and frustration and uncertainty. Only after the lights go off at 11 p.m. does the roar subside.

Even then, there are reminders of the horror. The other night, a woman woke up screaming from a nightmare.

"You get that hopeless feeling sitting here," Malbrough said, resting on a cot. "It's hard not knowing what's going to happen.

The following Times staff members contributed to earthquake coverage. In Oakland: Stephanie Chavez, Andrea Ford, Maria L. La Ganga, Maria Newman, Donna K.H. Walters, Tracy Wilkinson and Scott Masko. In San Francisco: Jack Cheevers, Lily Eng, Larry Green, Philip Hager, Ron Harris, Nancy Hill-Holtzman, Robert L. Jackson, Tamara Jones, J. Michael Kennedy, Dean Murphy, Jim Newton, Suzette Parmley, Louis Sahagun, George Stein, Victor F. Zonana; Norma Kaufman and Warwick Elston. In Sacramento: Jerry Gillam. In Santa Cruz: Tracey Kaplan. In the Santa Cruz Mountains: Michele Fuetsch. In Los Angeles: Steven R. Churm, Michael Connelly, Myrna Oliver, Judy Pasternak, Dan Weikel, Kevin Fox and Kenneth Reich.

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