San Francisco: The Great Quake
The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 was an occurrence of mostly pure tragedy in history. It was one of the most significant earthquakes of all time. Happening at precisely 5:12 AM on April 18, 1906, this was a devastating event that definitely would not be forgotten for many years to come. In the following paragraphs you will hear about some of the many horrible events of this time, and even a few of the good things that happened because of it.
But, what is an earthquake? An earthquake is a tremor, or shaking, of the Earths surface. The tremor is caused by movement of the fault lines located in the Earths crust. The tremors send out seismic waves, or shock waves, which are what we usually feel and call an earthquake.
In 1935, Charles Richter, a seismologist from America, developed a scale that measures the moment magnitude of seismic waves. This device is called the Richter scale. It records data on a scale from one through nine, the strength of the number being ten times more powerful than the one right before it. Most seismologists say that anything over a seven point magnitude is thought of as a pretty severe earthquake. According to the measurements of this scale the San Francisco earthquake came in as a seven point eight.
A foreshock, or a smaller earthquake that comes before a larger one, had occurred about twenty to twenty five seconds before the actual earthquake. Violent shocks and strong shaking lasted forty five to sixty seconds during the actual earthquake. When the earth started to move the shaking was so extravagant it was felt as far north as southern Oregon, as far south as south Los Angeles, and even as far inland as central Nevada.
The earthquake was caused by a rupture on the San Andreas fault which runs from the Salton Sea to Cape Mendocino, a distance of about eight hundred miles (one thousand two hundred eighty seven kilometers). The earthquake had ruptured along the fault for two hundred ninety six miles. The main shock epicenter was located offshore about two miles, or three kilometers, from the city.
The earthquake had not caused damage just by the strong shaking it had also started fires. It was estimated that up to ninety percent of the total destruction and damage was caused by fires. The fires were caused by things such as broken gas lines somehow catching fire, forest fires caused by campfires set by refugees, and quite a few of them were arson. Some people were even that desperate that they would set fire to their own homes so they could collect more money from insurance companies that did not cover earthquake damage but actually did cover fires. This also led to millions of dollars in debt for the insurance companies, but the insurance companies were not the only ones in debt the entire city was in debt! We’ll see to that later.
Some of the smaller fires in the downtown area actually combined to make one inferno, or a very big fire. To make things even worse in many parts of the city water mains had been destroyed and broken from the effects of the earthquake giving firefighters limited resources to put out the fires. As a result the fires lasted for four days and four nights. Over five hundred blocks of the downtown area of the city were destroyed from the fire.
Troops were immediately put into action and had arrived by seven o‘clock AM. But by the time they had got there, the fires caused by the quake had grown much larger than what they were just a few hours before. In order to put out the fire the San Francisco Fire Department, General Fredrick Funston (the leader of the troops), and the troops themselves came up with and idea that called for dynamite. This idea was that all of them would blow up and bomb buildings in a way that was creating more fires but also creating a ring of ruins around the fires. Sometimes it worked, other times it did not. But eventually those three groups got to putting out the fires once and for all.
Mayor Schmitz later allowed police, vigilante patrols, and military troops to shoot any looters that they saw raiding homes and/or businesses. Because of this outrageous event about five hundred people were shot and killed.
Due to the poor building standards of the time, many homes had been completely destroyed by both the fire and the earthquake. Some people say that the greatest losses of the earthquake were the ones in which some scientific laboratories were completely destroyed by the fire. In fact Alice Eastwood, the Curator of Botany at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, had been known for discovering fifteen hundred rare species of molecules and atoms, but sadly a very large percentage of her studies and specimens were lost in the great quake and fire. The rebuilding of the town had cost over five hundred million dollars in 1906 money, which is equal to five billion ten million dollars in today’s money.
Between two hundred twenty five thousand and three hundred thousand of the four hundred ten thousand people living in San Francisco at the time were left homeless. These people were told to stay in camps in the bay area. The army had built five thousand six hundred ten wooden houses to hold twenty thousand people. The houses were spread across eleven camps. Displaced people would pay two dollars per month to stay in these houses until their homes were rebuilt. The people that did not stay in the camps were better off to live with family members who were nearby until their homes were finished.
The city’s rebuilding took a period of about ten years. By that time the city had been almost completely rebuilt. The people of the highest power in the city wanted to rebuild the city as quick and soon as possible so they would be able to start selling newly built houses and open more new businesses to bring in more money to the city, but since the city was in such a rush to rebuild itself the cities building standards had actually been lowered instead of being raised. Because of this poorly planned rebuild, if another earthquake happened the damage and expense would be worse and higher than the what it was for the 1906 earthquake.
One question commonly asked is, Can it Happen Again? I did some of research and came up with these facts, the answer is yes, it definitely could happen again because San Francisco is very close to the San Andreas Fault, and also because the main epicenter of the 1906 earthquake was located only 2 miles off shore from the city itself. Many scientists have estimated that if another earthquake between a level of six point magnitude to a level of eight point magnitude had occurred the epicenter would very close to the one from the 1906 quake.
The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 was an occurrence of mostly pure tragedy in history. It was one of the most significant earthquakes of all time. Happening at precisely 5:12 AM on April 18, 1906, this was a devastating event that definitely would not be forgotten for many years to come. In the following paragraphs you will hear about some of the many horrible events of this time, and even a few of the good things that happened because of it.
But, what is an earthquake? An earthquake is a tremor, or shaking, of the Earths surface. The tremor is caused by movement of the fault lines located in the Earths crust. The tremors send out seismic waves, or shock waves, which are what we usually feel and call an earthquake.
In 1935, Charles Richter, a seismologist from America, developed a scale that measures the moment magnitude of seismic waves. This device is called the Richter scale. It records data on a scale from one through nine, the strength of the number being ten times more p

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