Where were you during the Quake? Millions of Northern Californians asked each other that question in the weeks after the Big One of ’89. But there is one person whom no one needed to ask. Six-year-old Julio Berumen was buried under several tons of concrete in a car crushed by the collapse of 1-880 in Oakland. Pulled from the freeway by courageous doctors in a harrowing procedure that cost him his leg, Julio has since recovered hearteningly—and is now the symbol of the Bay Area’s rejuvenation.
“I’m getting my new leg! I’m getting my new leg!” Julio shouted earlier this month in the halls of Oakland’s Children’s Hospital. He could hardly contain his excitement as he was fitted with a prosthetic limb and a brace was placed on his badly injured left leg. Julio grasped the bars of a walker and took the first steps of a new life. “Look at me!” he cried. “Look at me!”
Julio’s father, Pastor, 31, a construction worker, grinned. After the death of his wife, Petra, in the 1-880 collapse, and the surgery required to repair the crushed bones in the face of Julio’s sister, Cathy, 8, it was the happiest moment in many weeks for father and son. Julio’s smile faded only when his physical therapist decided he had done enough. “Can’t I keep my leg on?” he asked. “Then everyone can see it.”
That will have to wait until a few days before Christmas, when Julio, using crutches, should be able to walk out of the hospital. But clearly the quake’s pluckiest victim, like the city of San Francisco, was already back on his feet.