An earthquake destroys most of San Francisco (April 18, 1906) - History Key

An earthquake destroys most of San Francisco (April 18, 1906)

San Francisco is currently the 13th most populous city in the United States and the fourth city in California with a population of 870,000. In 1776, the Spanish colonists founded a Catholic church and the Presidio Army Base in the top of San Francisco peninsula, founding the city. By the 1848 the city entered a period of rapid growth because of the golden chase in the same year. In 1906 San Francisco was devastated by an earthquake leading to 3,000 deaths.

Richter Magnitude scale was developed after the San Francisco earthquake

On the morning of April 18, at 5:12 AM the earthquake struck the coast of Northern California with an estimated magnitude of 7.8. The epicentre occurred about 3.2 km (2 miles) from the city, offshore. The shake was so powerful that it was felt from Oregon, Los Angeles and central Nevada. According to Journal of Geophysical Research, the deformations from the earthquake were felt both before and after the initial impact. The first shock lasted about 42 seconds and after the initial shock, a strong foreshock shook the area again. It’s said that it would not have had such a strong impact if there were no erosions from the hydraulic mining of the California Gold Rush. Three decades after the tragically event, seismologists Charles Francis Richter and Beno Gutenberg from the California Institute of Technology developed a new earthquake scale: the Richter magnitude scale.

At the time, after the earthquake, were reported about 375 deaths. Even the total number of deaths is still uncertain it is estimated to be at least 3,000 deaths. Also Salinas River’s course was permanently shifted near its mouth diverting 10 km (6.2 miles) south. In 1906 the total population of San Francisco was about 410,000 and after the earthquake over 250,000 people were left homeless. Although the impact on San Francisco was devastating, the earthquake affected damages on other cities such as San Jose and Santa Rosa.

Fires destroyed about 90% of the total destruction

Fire on Sacramento Street in San Francisco 1906
Fire on Sacramento Street in San Francisco 1906 © Arnold Genthe /Library of Congress/Image Source: Wikipedia

Unfortunately the earthquake “brought” fires that burned out of control leading to more damage. It has been estimated than about 90% of the total destruction was the result of the fires. Ruptured gas mains caused over 30 fires in the next three days that have led to destruction of 25,000 buildings. One of these fires was accidentally started by a woman who wanted to make breakfast for her family, known as the “Ham and Eggs Fire”. Other cause that started a fire was the usage of dynamite to demolish building. Most of the destruction in San Francisco was blamed on fires and not earthquakes because the insurance companies indemnified properties from fire and not from earthquake damage. Because of this, some property owners deliberately started fires on their damaged properties in order to claim their insurance.

Map showing the extent of the fire after 1906 Earthquake - San Francisco
Map showing the extent of the fire after 1906 Earthquake © United States Geological Survey/Humphrey R. L/Image Source: Wikipedia

The city rose from the ashes in 9 years

The total damage from the disaster was estimated to be around $400 million dollars at that time. The amount is equivalent to $11 billion dollars in these days. Politicians and businessmen feared the fact that investments in the city will not be made, leading San Francisco into a ruin. However, California governor George Pardee made a public statement saying that the city was mostly destroyed by fires and the he is confident that the city will be rebuilt. Pardee didn’t mention any earthquake in his statement, manipulating the fatality and monetary damages. Despite the fact that 80% of the city was destroyed, San Francisco quickly recovered from the tragically event. San Franciscans started working from a clean stale, building the city with more logical and elegant structure. By the year 1915 almost the entire city was rebuilt, celebrating the reconstruction of the city and its “rise from the ashes.”

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