diamond geezer

 Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Great San Francisco Earthquake
18th April 1906

I do love an anniversary. But perhaps flying to San Franscisco for the centenary of North America's strongest recorded earthquake is taking things just a bit too far. Although, surely, this must be the safest possible time to be visiting, because there's absolutely no chance of the long-awaited seismic follow-up happening after an interval of precisely 100 years. Is there?

The great 1906 earthquake struck at 5:12am, just before dawn. A 250-mile stretch of the San Andreas Fault had slipped, suddenly and without warning, unleashing centuries of pent-up tectonic power. Fields cracked, streets undulated and wooden buildings crumpled. In poor areas built on reclaimed marshland the ground liquefied, causing overcrowded slums to collapse and trapping the inhabitants. Most people were asleep in bed at the time, including famous opera singer Enrico Caruso who was staying at the Palace Hotel after a particularly successful concert the night before.
"Everything in the room was going round and round. The chandelier was trying to touch the ceiling and the chairs were all chasing each other. Crash-crash-crash! It was a terrible scene. Everywhere the walls were falling and clouds of yellow dust were rising. My God, I thought it would never stop!" (Enrico Caruso, 1906)
Several died when chimneys dislodged by the violent shaking came crashing down on top of them, including the city's Chief Fire Officer. Not inconsequentially, most of the deaths in San Francisco that day were not from the quake itself but from the savage fires that followed. By late morning flames were jumping from building to building across the city, aided by the fact that almost all the city's water mains had fractured during the quake. This gold-painted hydrant (on the corner of 20th and Church) was one of the few found still to have a functioning water supply, but most areas were not so fortunate. Wealthy residents who had watched early developments with interest (and some amusement) started packing their bags as the fires approached the richer heights of town. By nightfall more than a quarter of San Francisco's inhabitants were homeless. Author Jack London observed the catastrophe at close hand.
"At a quarter past five, just twenty-four hours after the earthquake, I sat on the steps of a small residence on Nob Hill. To the east and south at right angles, were advancing two mighty walls of flame. I went inside with the owner of the house on the steps of which I sat. He was cool and cheerful and hospitable. 'Yesterday morning,' he said, 'I was worth six hundred thousand dollars. This morning this house is all I have left. It will go in fifteen minutes'" (Jack London, 1906)
The fire burned on for two more days, razing most of the city to the ground, finally halted only by a man-made firebreak and some very fortunate rain. At least 3000 people had been killed - that's about the same number as died on 9/11 and double the toll of Hurricane Katrina. These numbers may pale into insignificance against modern deaths from famine, disease and (ahem) American military intervention in the developing world, but a century ago they were cataclysmic. Perhaps surprisingly, 100 years on, millions of Americans still choose to live here along the fault lines of Western California, in the certain knowledge that one day another equally strong earthquake will wreak a similar terrible disaster. It may be incredibly beautiful in San Francisco, but is it really worth the risk? Hmm, what am I doing here?

all about the 1906 earthquake, from the US Geological Survey (check out all the info in the sidebar)
a shorter but dramatic account of the 06 quake and its aftermath
more centennial quakery
1906 eyewitness reports and photographs
modern maps and recent earthquakes (in the last week)
earthquake risk today
Radio 4 documentary on the Frisco Quake (listen again)

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream