A silver anniversary of love

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the devastating Loma Prieta Earthquake, our region has been gathering stories from people who experienced the quake three decades ago in an effort to encourage preparedness today. The following is a story from 2014.


The long-term relationship between Patsy Gasca, center, and the American Red Cross began the same day the Loma Prieta Earthquake struck almost 30 years ago. This week, the Disaster Program Manager for the Central Coast Chapter took a minute to pose for a photo with Red Cross colleagues Michele Averill (left), chapter CEO, and Camilla Boolootian, regional development officer.

By Carlos M. Rodriguez

October 17, 1989, started off as an ordinary day for Patsy Gasca. But at 5:04 p.m., the Loma Prieta earthquake struck Northern California, causing widespread damage from the San Francisco metropolis to the much smaller towns in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties. The 6.9-magnitude earthquake shook the ground for 15 seconds, changing Patsy’s life forever. Before the day was done, the 28-year-old Santa Cruz mother of three would volunteer as a case worker, beginning what has become a 25-year love affair with the American Red Cross.

Within hours, Patsy and other Red Cross disaster workers began providing desperately needed help for the thousands affected by the quake. In the months that followed, 7,824 members of the Red Cross workforce housed nearly 65,000 people in 45 shelters, served 642,785 meals, delivered lifesaving medical supplies, and distributed blankets, food, and clothing to more than 69,000 individuals and 15,000 families.


A worker surveys a collapsed bridge section on Highway 1 at Struve Slough in Watsonville, California following the earthquake.

“While on my first week as a volunteer, I learned that my aunt was killed in downtown Watsonville when the facade of a building came down on her and my nephew,” recalled Patsy. “She was killed instantly, and my nephew was critically injured. He survived after many months in the hospital.”

Despite the personal effect on her family, Patsy never lost focus. Eventually, she would be hired by the Red Cross as a case manager to assist families in need of long-term assistance. Today, as the disaster program manager for the Santa Cruz County Chapter, Patsy continues to help people prepare for the next disaster.

As a bilingual Latina, she encourages other Latinos to get involved, especially in communities like Watsonville where 81 percent of the residents are Latino, 41 percent are foreign born, and one in five households are linguistically isolated (meaning no one over 14 speaks English).

“When I decided to help my community after the earthquake, it was an act of love. That remains very true today,” says Patsy.

Loma Prieta Earthquake, 1989

Red Cross workers unload supplies for distribution to people in need following the earthquake.

Even after 25 years, love still matters. It’s a relationship that started with tragedy and heartache, but one that flourishes today thanks to a small town girl with a big heart.


  • This and other stories will be posted soon on this web page: redcross.org/lomaprieta. The web site will also provide information about how the Red Cross responded to this quake and how you can be prepared for emergencies.
  • Blog Category: Loma Prieta Earthquake (1989)