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25 Years After San Francisco Earthquake

Aired October 19, 2014 - 19:00   ET


RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: It's the ball game that turned into a disaster.

25 years after a major earthquake rocked the bay area, stories from beneath the rubble.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A lot of people trapped on (inaudible).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was nothing I could do to get free. So I wrote my husband a goodbye note.

Jack, earthquake hit while was under concrete, worst happened.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE0: The upper deck of the Bay Bridge has collapsed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I opened my eyes, I'm looking directly at the water.

KAYE: Do you remember what she said to you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not going to get out of here. Yes, we are.

KAYE: Tonight, San Francisco Shaken: 25 Years After the Quake.

Early evening, October 17th, 1989.

And San Francisco is in the middle of baseball madness. For the first time in nearly three decade, the City Giants are in the World Series.

Adding to the excitement, their opponents are rivals from across the bay, the Oakland Athletics.

AL MICHAELS, SPORTSCASTER: There's a (inaudible) atmosphere. Everybody can't wait for the game to start.

KAYE: Veteran Sportscaster Al Michaels is in town to call the game. And it's the perfect day for baseball.

MICHAELS: This was a pristine day, probably around 70 degrees.

BILL RAY: It's a courteous day, one of those Indian summer days that you only get in San Francisco.

KAYE: Bill Ray has left his office early and he's walking towards his apartment in San Francisco's hit, Marina District. RAY: I was walking home, thinking God this is the most beautiful place in the world. Why are we moving across the bay?

KAYE: Bill and his wife Janet have been married two years and they're exactly one month from closing on their first home.

RAY: We have plans for children and family (inaudible) it made sense for us in the time.

KAYE: Right.

For Bill and Janet, this evening is all about baseball.

RAY: My Janet was a huge Giant fan. Our plans were to stay at home and watch the game from home.

KAYE: Near Candlestick Park inside Fire Station number 9, the guys will be watching too.

GERRY SHANNON, FIREFIGHTER: I was in the kitchen. They had gotten a load of prawns. It was kind of an occasion.

KAYE: Firefighter Gerry Shannon, a 19-year veteran is on duty that night. It's his turn to cook dinner.

And your plan have been just serve lay low, maybe hope there weren't any calls, right?

SHANNON: Yeah. It was Oakland and San Francisco, so it's a big thing.

KAYE: The match up has been doubt the Bay Bridge Series.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Win Giants all the way.

KAYE: After the main artery that connects San Francisco with Oakland. That bridge is where law student Bruce Stephen happens to be.

BRUCE STEPHEN, SAN FRANCISCO QUAKE SURVIVOR: My wife and I would walk down to school and walk back home and we would never in the car. We would never be anywhere near the bridge.

KAYE: But Bruce has recently taken a day job as a Construction Manager and must drive on the bridge this day.

STEPHEN: There was a project that was being built over in Oakland and they were turning the building over from construction to the property management group. So, I had to go over for the celebration to do the little hand off.

KAYE: The National World Series broadcast begins at 5:00 P.M., Pacific Time but the actual game is still about a half hour away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The crowd is filling in. There was this great sense of anticipation that bunting is out and the whole thing, the field look as good as it ever look at Candlestick Park. KAYE: Tonight is game three. The first of the series played at Candlestick. San Francisco's own stadium.

MICHAELS: The Battle of the Bay continues.

KAYE: About 30 million people are watching on T.V.

MICHAELS: The Oakland Athletics against the San Francisco Giants. I'm Al Michaels. Welcome to game three.

I came on the air, opened it up. We had a blimp shot and a few other things. I set the scene. Here is what happened in the first two games.

And he fails to get Dave Parker.

KAYE: Less than two minutes later.

MICHAELS: At first, it's like, what is this? This can't be happening. It takes a moment to understand. Hey, wait a second all hell breaking loose.

KAYE: Bill Ray's Janet is in their Marina District living room watching the pre-game show.

RAY: I was getting out of my suit. I had just pulled my khakis and (inaudible) and sure it was. And, when the first jolt hit, it was quite stroke. And I asked her to come to me.

KAYE: They meet in the hall way of their second floor apartment.

RAY: We we're holding each other. The ground continued to shake. Just as she got into arms, she said I love you.

And then the glass started to break. The apartment on two sides was surrounded by windows and they started to shutter all at the same time.

KAYE: On the Bay Bridge, Bruce Stephen is coming home.

STEPHEN: I was probably going about 50 plus miles an hour or so and there was a Caltrans truck that was doing some work on the lights. And right around the time that I had, you know, just kind of even or pass that Caltrans truck, it felt like I had a flat tire and I remember thinking, may they dropped the light bulb on the road.

But it was in this series of split seconds. So in the next spit second it was two flat tires and then next split second it sound like the engine was pulling out of my car.

KAYE: Candlestick Fires Station Number Nine immediately goes into emergency mode. Trucks roar out into the street. Gerry Shannon is driving.

SHANNON: As we went around the first block the radio chatter started.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to need some trucks down here as soon as you can go.

SHANNON: As the people came on to the radio they were trampling over each other.

KAYE: So what did that tell you?

SHANNON: You never hear that. I mean, that's the radio we used 10 times a day. So everybody is calm, cool, and collected on the radio. You're waiting your turn.

The pitches of their voices were going higher and higher, and there's a little bit of -- I don't want to say panic but there's a lot of excitement.

And then, they came on the radio and said, Truck 9, to Cervantes and Fillmore. And the captain checked, radio check that. You want truck 9 Cervantes and Fillmore?

KAYE: It doesn't make sense because Cervantes and Fillmore is in the Marina District, seven miles from Gerry on the opposite side of town where Bill and Janet Ray's world has just crashed down around them.

Based on all the chatter and what they were saying, what where you expecting when you got to the Marina District?

SHIANEN: I wasn't expecting what I saw it.

KAYE: Ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're looking at the Bay Bridge. That's the section that has collapse.

KAYE: Do you remember dropping?

RAY: I was just as big "swish".


KAYE: Four minutes and thirty seconds pass 5:00 P.M. Pacific Time. Baseball fans are expecting an epic game.

Commuters are having an easy rush hour.

Traffic is light.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my God we're having an earthquake. Wait a minute. Hold on. Can you feel that?

KAYE: Until the earth's shifts and lives are changed forever.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The San Francisco has collapsed. 35-238, we have a major injury accident, Cyprus and West Grand View. They're advising major injuries. We're attempting to get 11...

KAYE: Saleswoman Dorothy Otto is driving her Pontiac Bonneville on the bottom level of Oakland's Double Decker Cypress Freeway. She's racing to meet with a customer.

DOROTHY OTTO, SAN FRANCISCO EARTHQUAKE SUVIVOR: Big cement beams with rebar in them just blew apart in the dust. It was amazing. And then I fell 25 feet. And I heard people screaming and I was shocked that I was alive.

KAYE: The upper deck of the Cypress is lying on top of Dorothy's Pontiac. The front of the vehicle is smashed to four inches. And her left foot is trapped by the emergency break and the crushed dashboard.

OTTO: I tried to pull myself free. And there was nothing I could do to get free. So I got a piece of paper and I wrote my husband a goodbye note. Jack, earthquake hit while I was under concrete. Worse happened, it collapsed on car. I'm alive just my foot is stuck under the car. Love you lots. Good luck to us both.

KAYE: Inside Candlestick Park where the world is watching the quake live, Al Michael's is scrambling to figure out what's going on.

MICHAEL: Are we on the air or not? And I wasn't sure.

KAYE: Players and fans are oblivious to the severity of the damage from the 6.9 magnitude quake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Giant is awake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The game will be postponed.

MICHAEL: There is no way to know what the damage was outside of the stadium. It's not like a lot of ballparks, we can see downtown or outside.

KAYE: Outside not only has the Cypress collapsed but a piece of the Bay Bridge has caved in. Bruce Stephen is driving a grey Mazda on the upper deck as a 50 foot chunk gives way.

STEPHEN: It was like a giant was trying to remove the tablecloth and, you know, like pull (inaudible) or something.

KAYE: And shaking the bridge.

STEFAN: And shaking the bridge, yes. It was just this big "swish", like that. And then it's dropping.

KAYE: So do you remember dropping?

STEFAN: I remember dropping and the second I felt this sensation of dropping I thought it was all over. I mean we -- at that time of course that the whole bridge was falling down. And I remember screaming we're going to die. And that's the last thing I remember.

KAYE: San Francisco Firefighter Gerry Shannon is headed north of the bridge to the Marina District where homes are built on landfill or soft soil making them vulnerable to shaking.

So when you came over this hill what did that look like to you? SHANNON: Everybody gasps. I've never seen anything like it. I mean it was so big it looked like an atom bomb.

KAYE: It's not a bomb.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A very large building is on fire.

KAYE: It's a four-story residential building. Bill and Janet Ray call it home. They are huddled together underneath a doorway in their second floor apartment.

RAY: And the next thing I knew that I was flat on my back and Janet was laying on my chest.

KAYE: Their home has dropped a dozen feet into the garage on the first floor.

RAY: You're head's right here. We're surrounded.

KAYE: The third floor has collapsed on top of them leaving a space for Bill and Janet about two feet wide by two feet high.

RAY: it reminds me of a coffin. I could feel my wife's breath. I'm sure she could feel mine.

KAYE: Why couldn't you move her at that point?

RAY: There was glass or wood that was cutting into her.

KAYE: Help does come. Their apartment manager hears them and promises to return with rescuers.

RAY: I was almost euphoric. I was just actually confident that we're going to get out of there.

KAYE: And was she?

RAY: Yes.

KAYE: What Bill and Janet don't know is the quake has ruptured both gas lines and water mains.

SHANNON: While we were driving you could really see water like a creek running down in the middle of the street.

KAYE: Firefighter Gerry Shannon goes up near the Ray's apartment building to help fight the gas fueled fire now heading toward them. But there's a huge problem, there's not enough water pressure to force water from the hydrants.

SHANNON: The water wasn't going anywhere. It was just kind of trickling out. So with no water they told us to start the search and rescue.

KAYE: Gerry turns his attention to a home directly across the street. SHANNON: I'm not sure if it was a paramedic but he came up and said I think I heard somebody in that building over there. The top floor was out in the middle of the street and the first three floors were just ruble. I saw a spot under the fire escape so I stuck my head in and I yelled is anybody in there?

I didn't hear anything right away. I yelled again is there -- can anybody hear me. And yes, I hear you. I'm in here.

KAYE: It's a female voice. Gerry is certain. And what did you think?

SHANNON: I mean I'm looking at just tons of lumber in a pile.

KAYE: There's no clear way to reach the woman trapped inside. Her building is unstable and aftershocks are making it worse. On top of that there's a growing fire across the street. But he grabs a chain saw and starts to crawl in. Why did you go in?

SHANNON: It's my job.

KAYE: Did you have a plan?

SHANNON: There was -- no, no.

KAYE: How difficult did it look to you that this rescue was going to be?

SHANNON: It didn't look probable.

KAYE: Still ahead.

Do you remember what she said to you?

RAY: We're not going to get out of here.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a hell of an earthquake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's an A.C. transit bus I believe.

KAYE: On the Bay Bridge bus driver Douglas Burghardt is driving on the lower deck when the road right in front of him falls away.

DOUGLAS BURGHARDT, BUS DRIVER: I put every ounce and I'm talking about I had every ounce of strength in my leg and in my foot to stop the bus.

KAYE: Douglas stops just feet from the gap where Bruce Stefan is unconscious and dangling precariously.

STEPHEN: When I opened my eyes on an angle I'm looking directly at the water. I have no idea why I am still above the water.

KAYE: Bruce's car is stuck on falling pieces of the bridge caught in the steel support ledge.

STEFAN: All I know this was a second chance. I mean I was out of that car and by the hood of the car so fast that no one had gotten out of their cars on the bridge. And in fact I'm holding the lower road way. I remember now suddenly that there's someone in the car with me.

KAYE: His Co-worker Janice who is riding with him. Bruce tells her to come out of the car window. He gets her to the edge of the collapsed section but can't get her up unto the stable part of the roadway.

STEFAN: And the bus driver at that moment had just gotten out of his bus came running over. And so I grabbed one of Janice's arms and he grabbed the other arm, and together we pulled her up unto the lower roadway.

KAYE: And take off.

STEFAN: It was like get Janice up on the road and let's get walking to dry ground before the whole bridge collapses.

KAYE: While the situation on the Bay Bridge stabilizes conditions on the collapsed Double Decker Cypress Freeway are becoming more horrific.

LORENZO FREDIANI, OAKLAND FIREFIGHTER: The air was a mix of burning of rubber and flesh.

KAYE: Oakland Firefighter Lorenzo Frediani ventures down to the sandwiched lower deck where Dorothy Otto is trapped.

FREDIANI: I see a woman trapped in the car.

OTTO: The car was so deformed that my dashboard, the part that's supposed to be right here was here on my shins.

KAYE: The emergency break is also impaled into Dorothy's ankle.

FREDIANI: We started working with the tools and it wasn't easy.

KAYE: But nothing is working and Lorenzo is rapidly loosing his space to maneuver.

OTTO: We had aftershocks and as the road came down you had to avoid the roof crushing you.

FREDIANI: The space went from either three and half or three feet down to two and half to two feet.

KAYE: That's Lorenzo in the rapidly narrowing space.

IDAHO: They started to leave and I said, "Guys don't leave me in here to die alone."

FREDIANI: And I said I won't leave her. But I said you need to make peace because I'm making peace right now. I did think I was going to die.

KAYE: 12-year-old Desiree Helm lives 215 miles from the crashed Cypress. But she is scared out of her mind.

Her dad Buck Helm works right near the flattened structure. And the last time she saw him, things didn't go well.

DESIREE HELM, BUCK HELM'S DAUGHTER: I was looking to going with him to the Bay Area and spending time with him. But he told me that the baby-sitter canceled it so I couldn't go. So I was quite upset and I said some mean things to him.

KAYE: What did you say?

D. HELM: I told him that I hated him. And then he left and I didn't really say sorry or anything.

KAYE: Now in the wake of the earthquake Desiree has no idea where her father is.

Over in the Marina District, Firefighter Gerry Shannon is struggling to rescue a woman from beneath a collapsed building.

SHANNON: I was laying on my stomach with a chain saw out in front of me because there was only a two and half foot ceiling and it was about three feet wide. And so I just kept crawling with the saw and cutting.

KAYE: He can't see her so he is sawing in the dark using her voice to guide him in the right direction. But just as Gerry is making headway his equipment fails.

SHANNON: The chain saw that I was using got so dull that it wouldn't cut anymore. So I crawled back to the bedroom and I said I need another chain saw. And at that time I leaned back against the wall just to get a breather and rest my arms and then the thought start, you know, if something happens who was going to tell my kids. How would they tell them?

KAYE: Right across the street from Gerry, Bill and Janet Ray are still trapped under rubble. Firefighters are now inside what's left of their building.

RAY: And they said don't worry we're going to get you out of there. And I could sense that there's desperation. This fellow who I've never met is working so hard to get the chain saw started.

KAYE: The firefighter tried an ax instead.

RAY: Once they got the hole cut out a gloved hand came through the hole. I grabbed his hand. The only thing that separated me and them was two inches of cement floor.

KAYE: They're so close but incredibly debris is no longer the main obstacle to their rescue. RAY: It was during the ax chopping that the smoke started to roll into the flood that we were on and I could smell it. And that was a big concern to Janet.

KAYE: Do you remember what she said to you?

RAY: We're not going to get out of here.

KAYE: Ahead, Gerry's choice.

SHANNON: People are yelling in from the street to get out and she's looking at me like, "Are you going to leave me here?"


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There have been hundreds of aftershocks since the quake first hit at 5:04.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody is down here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah (inaudible).


KAYE: At the collapsed Cypress Freeway each aftershock drops the top deck closer to Dorothy Otto.

Threatening to seal her and her would be rescuer Lorenzo Frediani into their own tomb.

FREDIANI: She's nervous and scared talking a hundred miles an dollar.

OTTO: And he told me, "Listen, you got to shut up and stop because I can't think."

FREDIANI: The last thing in the world I want to hear before I die is a woman nagging at me. She says, "OK" and she stopped.

KAYEE: Now only about two feet of space remains. And with Dorothy's foot still trapped, drastic measures are required.

FREDIANI: We have the called for the surgeon to cut her foot off then he says to me, "OK, where's her foot let's cut it."

KAYE: Dorothy Otto is about to lose her left foot.

FREDIANI: And I said OK, just give me five minutes, I want to try one more thing. I think I got an idea.

KAYE: Lorenzo's idea is to take a part the Jaws of Life tool and use a small part of it like a crowbar and it works.

Their five-hour ordeal is over and she keeps her foot.

OTTO: When they popped me out like that, it was amazing.

I made it and then I cried.

KAYE: Just 20 minutes later this section of Cypress where Dorothy was trapped completely concaves.

Over in the Marina District, Gerry Shannon reenters the collapse building hoping to save the woman trapped there.

SHANNON: If you want to be safe take an office job.

KAYE: Because there is no way you were not going back in.


KAYE: Conditions are worsening rapidly. The fire that is burning in Bill Ray's apartment is now threatening the building where Gerry is working.

SHANNON: And then people were yelling in from the street to get out. I mean she's hearing me and she's looking at me like, "Are you going to leave me here?"

KAYE: He is moving quickly and soon saws through a large beam. Moving it means he can finally see the woman he's been hearing for more than two hours.

SHANNON: As I came over to the top. She had a big smile on. And I said first, "My name is Gerry and she said hi I'm Sherri (ph)."

KAYE: 55-year old Sherra Cox, a bookkeeper and an accomplished pianist, all that's left to free her one final layer of debris.

SHANNON: The door was on top of her about an inch away from her body and I got to chain saw. She could see that blade going around and the noise the chain saw, the smoke, the whole thing.

KAYE: It's terrifying.

SHANNON: Yeah. She said I trust you.

KAYE: And then finally Sherra Cox is no longer trapped.

SHANNON: It was the first time in 2.5 hours that I was thinking. We're going to pull this off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gentlemen, this building is on fire (inaudible).

KAYE: Across the street firefighters are trying desperately to free Bill and Janet Ray.

BILL RAY: So they keep chopping and -- then I heard a third person coming to the room and it was a muffled voices.

And, I believe that the captain who could come in is polling them out of the building and the one fireman was crying and didn't want to go. And that's when Janet started yelling, "Don't go, don't go." And they left without saying a word to us.

It was an awful feeling. They left us to die and that was crashing.

At that point, I just told her how sorry I was. And I said, "We're going to get out of here."

KAYE: Getting out means pulling him self through a small hole and driving debris further into Janet's back.

RAY: Though it was very painful to Janet. She said, "Go. Keep going." I told her I going to ask help.

KAYE: Did you tell her you loved her.

RAY: Oh yeah.

I wasn't going to leave. But I got to the window and as I stood up I fell into the bathroom and I was disoriented.

KAYE: Bill Ray doesn't know it yet but his leg is broken in several places.

RAY: I distinctly remember looking out the window over here to where we're standing and there were 20 or 30 people looking up and this whole sidewalk, you could hears somebody they've standing in a crowd and I can only remember his face.

It must be 50 yards from here and we just connected and he got my attention. I was yelling, "Help me, help me." And he was saying, "Jump, jump." And he pointed out like that. And that's when I realized the fourth floor was fully engulfed in flames.

RAY: Bill leaps from the window as the man races across the street and pulls Bill from the rubble. A fireman jumps in to help.

Firefighters eventually get the water going. It is too late for the Ray's building.

RAY: I was yelling at the fireman, "Go get my wife. Go get my wife." And at that point, while I'm still on the ground, the fourth floor collapses.

Everybody went silent including myself because at that point I knew she was dead.

I was just hysterical.

KAYE: Bright, beautiful and athletic. 28-year-old Janet Ray is dead.

What was that like for you to see that?

RAY: It was very painful, a huge failure. I made a commitment I couldn't keep.

KAYE: Coming up, a miracle on the Cypress.

D. HELM: When they were pulling out the person on the gurney, my brother said, those are my tennis shoes.


KAYE: Directly across the street from Bill Ray's nightmare in another collapse burning building, a happy ending for Sherra Cox.

SHANNON: We just kept dragging her and when we got to the exterior wall, the paramedics were there with a gurney.

KAYE: They take Sherra and rolled her toward the ambulance but she won't get it.

SHANNON: She had wedged her hands against the doors.

SHERRA COX, SAN FRANCISCO EARTHQUAKE SURVIVOR: And I keep saying, "Where's Gerry? I have to have this last name", and they said, "Why do you want his last name?" And I said, "I have to thank him." And then people laughed but I said, "No I'm not leaving here until you get me -- get Gerry's last time."

SHANNON: We walked over and she said, "I need your last name". I said my last name is Shannon, and goes, "Oh they sent an Irishman."

COX: And I reached at him and put my arms around his neck and I said, "You're my hero."

SHANNON: They put her in the ambulance and closed the door and drove away.

KAYE: On the Cypress, the rescues have stopped.

FAITH FANCHER, SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA TELEVISION REPORTER: They say there is no chance that there is anyone left alive.

KAYE: In the predawn hours of Saturday morning, four days after the earthquake, and engineers examining the structure to prepare for the day ahead.

CHUCK NICOLA, ORANGE COUNTY FIREFIGHTER: And it was like, in the dark area when he's using flashlight, in his process of doing that he thought he saw something moved.

KAYE: Orange County Firefighter Chuck Nicola is helping on the Cypress. He's skeptical about a survivor but plans are made to reach the car which is about 10 feet in on the lower deck.

NICOLA: I could see him. I didn't think there was somebody alive.

KAYE: The front of the car has been crashed flat by a falling beam and the concrete of the upper deck is laying on the top of the door.

NICOLA: I reached in there and I gave kind of a share and he moves or groan or something, and there was like a rush of joy. And I said, "Hey buddy, what's your name?" And he responded Buck but I didn't hear it is Buck, I wasn't sure whether he was -- maybe he's cursing. I don't know.

KAYE: The man in the car saying buck. It's Buck Helm, Desiree's dad. Rescuers used the Jaws of Life to get the door open.

NICOLA: As we set him out of the side of free way, you could hear a cheer.

KAYE: 250 miles away, Desiree is watching T.V. with her mom and older brothers.

D. HELM: When they were pulling out the person on the gurney my brother said, "Those are my tennis shoes, that's our dad." Because our dad had borrowed his tennis shoes.

LORENE HELM, BUCK HELM'S EX-WIFE: We automatically know it was him even though they haven't said the name.

KAYE: Why'd you assume it was him?

L. HELM: Because he convinced us that he was survivor.

KAYE: 12-year-old Desiree now has her chance to apologize.

DESIREE: And I was like, "Yes", now I can tell him sorry for the things that I said to him.

KAYE: It will be awhile before she can talk with him. Buck Helm is badly injured.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is most important on an urgent medical problem was respiratory failure.

Couldn't breathe adequately, severe pain from the crash injuries, kidney shutdown, sciatic nerve damage, and inability to move the leg. And at least three fractured ribs.

L. HELM: He had a respirator and -- so he wasn't able to talk except for blinking his eyes and, you know, squeezing his hands.

D. HELM: I didn't really want to stay in the room too much because it made me upset. So thought maybe I would wait to tell him I'm sorry so he can understand what I'm saying.

KAYE: And the man, the media dubbed Lucky Buck, the one who convinced his family he could survived anything even this begins to get better.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's kidneys woke (ph) backup, he was improving.

D. HELM: I remember them saying, he's going to be able to go home.

KAYE: Up next, a turn for their worst.

Tell me what's been 28 days after Buck's rescue? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KAYE: For four weeks the last man rescued from the Cypress Buck Helm is waging a successful battle against life-threatening injuries.

But then his ex-wife Lorene Helm gets an ominous message.

Tell me what happened 28 days after Buck's rescue.

L. HELM: They gave me a beeper and the beeper went off. And the message was, "Get back to the hospital."

The doors were shut. When they finally did open the doors, they walked over to me.

I'm sorry.

And they told me that they had (inaudible) that he was gone. And I still couldn't -- I couldn't believe it.

KAYE: Buck Helm is the 63rd person to die from the earthquake. 12- year old Desiree losses her dad before she can apologize.

D. HELM: I am really was mad at myself for years because I never said sorry.

KAYE: The guilt sends her down a painful path littered with bad decisions. And it ends with no job, her children in the custody of others, and a meth addiction.

Would you ever have gone down this path if your dad hadn't died in the aftermath of earthquake?

D. HELM: I don't think so because I love my dad so much. I know it would have disappointed him and I always wanted my dad to be happy with me.

KAYE: She is now married, sober, and credits her Christian faith with helping her moved on.

D. HELM: You can't get kick yourself for the past because it does no good, it just make you miserable and you can't move forward.

When I was able to let go of that, we've actually been really happy.

KAYE: As for Gerry Shannon, he becomes close friends with the woman he dug from the rubble Sherra Cox.

So close, in fact that by 2009 he's handling her medical decisions.

SHANNON: Really she had no family, really the closest family that she had.

COX: You want to open a present?

SHANNON: Sure. KAYE: Diabetes is beginning to eat away at her.

SHANNON: She's having circulation problem. She lost her toes then she lost her foot.

KAYE: Eventually, she gets gangrene.

SHANNON: They were afraid it would get to her heart. That's when they said we're going to have to cut more off her legs. I went in to tell her and she said, you know, don't mind and do it. No more.

KAYE: For the second time, Gerry Shannon has Sherri Cox's life in his hands. This time, it ends differently.

So she knows she was going to die without that?

SHANNON: She knew it. And -- yeah, we knew it.

My wife filled the room full of roses because that's what she loved. And I was talking to her and she said, "I don't want you feeling bad." You know, she's gotten my hand and said, "I just had 20 years on the house."

And then about 5:00 that morning, I got a phone call which I knew at 5:00 in the morning that she had pass.

KAYE: Dorothy Otto is a medical miracle. First, she's crashed on Cypress and has no fractures, not one.

OTTO: And they x-rayed me over and over and over. And they couldn't find broken bones, which they did not believe.

KAYE: Her foot heals.

OTTO: They were afraid I'd loss the foot even after all the heroic efforts of the fire department.

KAYE: And she walks normally.

She's now a breast cancer survivor too.

OTTO: Everybody's life has its sunny parts and bad parts.

KAYE: In the years after the earthquake, Bill Ray lost of his wife Janet leads to anger about the rescue that never happened.

What do you wish the firefighters had done differently that night?

RAY: I had wished that once they cut the hole that they had told me -- told us that there was a fire engulfing the building. And that, you know, "We only have a couple of minutes." Either cut off her leg to get her out of there.

All right buddy, come on.

KAYE: Time, therapy and, support from a men's group finally allows Bill Ray to let go of that anger and to stop feeling guilty about Janet's death.

RAY: It was really around -- believing in myself and accepting the fact that I'm not Superman.

KAYE: Then four years into his second marriage another tragedy for Bill Ray.

RAY: I've woken up. There was a noise. Laurel (ph) was breathing erratically. And then while I was talking to a 911 operator her heart stopped.

KAYE: Bill Ray is once again staring down death desperately trying to save his wife's life. He gives Laurel (ph) CPR for 27 minutes.

How much of your push to save Laurel (ph) had to do with any guilt that you might have had about Janet?

RAY: A lot.

KAYE: Doctors didn't think Laurel (ph) would walk or write or talk again. With Bill as her advocate and caregiver, she survives and does all those things.

So when people hear you story and I think, "Man, this guy had a really rough. He's had an awful, difficult life and tremendous loss." What do you say to them?

RAY: Guys no I haven't (ph). I've had a wonderful life.

The real richness in life is the love that you get from those that you embrace the tightest.

STEPHEN: Yeah, the weather is great here.

KAYE: Today, Bruce Stephen who narrowly escaped plunging off the Bay Bridge.

Following the quake he moves with his wife and take the job in Lower Manhattan.

STEPHEN: We worked down in the Walter Towers and my wife worked in one tower, I work in other.

KAYE: Which puts them both incredibly back in the middle of disaster.

It's September 11th, 2001.

STEPHEN: There was a bang and I looked over and there's glass -- flemming (ph) pieces of glass going by the window.

KAYE: He gets out safely and his wife?

STEPHEN: I remember walking saying, "I'm a widower of my wife (inaudible) dead."

KAYE: But hours later, he reunites with wife who is unharmed too. Do you feel like there's a reason why you survived both in these events?

STEPHEN: I do and I don't feel like I found it yet. You know what I mean? Why me? Why me twice?

KAYE: So what do you want people to take away and to learn from what you've gone through and what you've lived through?

STEPHEN: Well, I think that every single moment in life is precious that it could be taken away from you in a second. And you just really appreciate that this was an amazing -- sorry -- a very amazing short- term gift and to appreciate every moment and to appreciate all human beings because in the end -- I mean, all we really have is each other.