Little Bits of History

The Great Quake

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 18, 2010

Toppled houses

April 18, 1906: At 5:12 AM an estimated 8.25 Richter scale earthquake hits San Francisco and lasts between 45 and 60 seconds. The quake ruptured the northernmost 296 miles of the San Andreas fault line causing 75% of the city to be destroyed either by the initial quake or the resulting fires.

It took three days for the fires to completely burn out. By that time 490 city blocks with 25,000 buildings were destroyed. About 250,000 people were left homeless. Without water to fight the blazes due to the damaged infrastructure, Army General Frederick Funston and civil authorities made one last ditch and disastrous effort. They elected to use dynamite to create firebreaks. However, when the request for explosives was received, gunpowder was sent instead of the dynamite. Rather than create firebreaks, the untrained but well-meaning firefighters spread the fire with the explosions.

View of the fires during the aftermath

Those able to escape the disaster, took what they could and fled the city. After days of chaos, the mayor, afraid of looters and the added destruction they were causing, ordered no arrests. Instead, he ordered that looters and others committing crimes were to be shot. The word went out and people believed that martial law was being called for. Some order returned. By April 21, the last of the fires was under control.

Then the assessment of the damage and the rebuilding started. Four days after the quake struck, 300 plumbers were at work fixing pipes and sewers. Within weeks, streetcars were running. Within six weeks, banks were open again. The cleanup was staggering; it was said that 6 ½ billion bricks had fallen into the streets. A new San Francisco arose from the ashes. Damage estimates were greater than $350 million or ≈ $9.4 billion in 2009 USD.

“The earthquake cleared out one San Francisco — which was the dominant place in California — and replaced it with another. It accelerated the modernization of California.” – Kevin Starr

“There were really two stages to the disaster. The earthquake was in itself enormous and San Francisco was badly damaged, but the greatest horror and chaos would soon follow in the form of the worst urban fire in American history.” – James Dalessandro

“Those who survived the San Francisco earthquake said, ‘Thank God, I’m still alive.’ But, of course, those who died, their lives will never be the same again.” – Barbara Boxer

“I was married once — in San Francisco. I haven’t seen her for many years. The great earthquake and fire in 1906 destroyed the marriage certificate. There’s no legal proof. Which proves that earthquakes aren’t all bad.” – W. C. Fields

Also on this day, in 1923 Yankee Stadium opened.

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