SAN FRANCISCO -- For Phil Gatine, the earthquake that hit this city and the surrounding area last fall has been a matter of grizzly memory and work.
When the tremor struck late in the afternoon eight months ago today, Gatine had ended his usual day of operating construction machinery and was headed for the San Francisco Bay Bridge and home. When he heard that part of the bridge's upper deck had collapsed, he wondered, like thousands of others, how he would get home that night.
He never did.
Instead, Gatine spent much of it at the controls of a front-end loader in an area of the city known as South of Market, where the upper walls of several brick buildings had collapsed onto cars on the street below, killing the occupants.
Now Gatine is using similar equipment in another part of the city scarred by the earthquake, the Marina District. He was at work there recently for GSE Developers helping replace the shattered foundation and first floor of a 21-unit frame apartment house at the corner of Divisadero and Bay streets.
The entire area of row structures was built on unstable sand taken from the bottom of the bay. Some corner buildings, with little support on either side, collapsed. A few burned. Now, however, many initially thought to be beyond repair have been shored up by house movers, who came in from all over the state.
No one seems to be keeping tabs on the total amount of damage done to property by the earthquake. One figure, now months old, was $5.9 billion, not including damage to the Bay Bridge and various highways and freeways, including the Nimitz Freeway in Oakland whose collapse caused most of the 62 deaths now attributed to the tremor.
The general assessment among economists here is that the added spending for repairing earthquake damage has more or less offset the depressing effects on the economy from continuing traffic problems and a drop in tourism. Unemployment is virtually unchanged from its level a year ago.
City officials could not name a single business that has failed as a result of the quake, and private analysts said that where business is off, such as Chinatown, other factors -- including growth of other Chinese shopping areas -- are involved.
"The economy was strong to begin with," said Tappan Munroe, chief economist for Pacific Gas & Electric Co., "and it is hard to dent a strong economy."
The earthquake cost Munroe's company, which supplies natural gas and electricity to the area, about $100 million, part of which is behind a pending request for higher rates.
But if the overall Bay Area economy was not severely damaged, it nevertheless has changed. Munroe and other analysts noted that the quake disrupted the normal pattern of many people's lives. "It jarred them out of the rut they were in. It forced them to change their habits," he said.
And even when they could have gone back to the old patterns, many have not. Daily ridership on the Bay Area Rapid Transit rail system, which suffered only minor disruptions from the quake, is about 20,000 higher than it was before.
City merchants have found, to their chagrin, that people who use mass transit tend to go home earlier and shop and eat in restaurants closer to home. As Munroe put it, "San Francisco's loss is the East Bay's gain."
In the famous Chinatown section, business is off and there is a clamor for immediate repair of the elevated, badly damaged Embarcadero Freeway to make it easier to get there again. But many city residents opposed the original construction and Mayor Art Agnos has suggested tearing down what is left and constructing a depressed roadway.
Initially, everyone thought a new roadway would be much more expensive, but now they are not so sure, said Kent O. Sims, director of the San Francisco Economic Development Corp. An estimate for repairing just one part of the freeway came in at $78 million, nearly double the state's estimate.
"The tide is turning on the Embarcadero Freeway," Sims said. "The longer it stays up, the more likely it is to come down."
What has been this city's loss has in many instances been a gain for some other part of the Bay Area. For instance, a ferry service set up on an emergency basis between here and Oakland is still operating. The daily flow of travelers has given a lift to a section of Oakland around Jack London Square, a tourist area with many shops and restaurants.
The tourist industry, which is this city's biggest single business, did not fare so well, however. During the winter, visitors stayed away in droves and the flow is not back to normal. No conventions have been canceled, except a few to be held immediately after the earthquake, and hotel occupancy rates are back to their levels of a year ago.
But by most accounts, there are fewer people staying in those rooms. "Spouses are not coming along as much as they did, and that is hurting retail sales," said Carolyn Sherwood-Coll, an economist with the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank.
James K. Ho, deputy mayor for economic development, said the earthquake revealed just how dependent the city is on tourism.
"When this happened, a lot of public revenue went down because we depend on our services tax, the hotel tax and the parking tax, and this caused us major problems," Ho said.
While these changes have chipped away at the city's economy, spending for the cleanup and rebuilding effort has boosted it.
Prior to last fall, the construction boom in other parts of the Bay Area had cooled. In the city itself, there are such tight restrictions on new construction -- only 475,000 square feet of new office space can be built annually -- that little building was going on anyway. As a result, there was plenty of skilled labor available to undertake quake-rebuilding jobs.
In the city, there was substantial damage, but far less of it than the news coverage of the earthquake implied. Lawrence Kornfield of the city building inspector's office said that only about 30 buildings have been demolished as a result of earthquake damage, none of them large modern buildings. Those that were most severely damaged were either the frame buildings of the Marina District or older, unreinforced masonry buildings.
Of the roughly 100 buildings still considered unsafe and not under repair, perhaps 10 or 15 eventually will come down, Kornfield said.
Not surprisingly, the San Francisco real estate market has been altered by the quake. Prices of homes and buildings in areas of poor landfill have dropped sharply while those in other areas, such as those built on the bedrock of city's famous hills, have risen.
"There is a lot of damage here that no one has ever reported," said Gatine. "They just plastered over the cracks. There'll be work for us here for a long time."