The San Francisco, California earthquake had a magnitude of 7.9 and Mercalli intensity of XI (Extreme).
The Great Quake holds the record for highest amount of lives lost from a natural disaster in California to date with over 3,000 deaths. Even after so many years, it has left its mark on California. It also still reminds California residents of the tectonic plates underneath their feet. Basically, these tectonic plates have the potential and force to bring down entire cities.
The earthquake occurred because of deformations in the earth’s crust. The deformation is in-between the Pacific Plate and North American Plate tectonic boundaries.
This deformation is directly within the San Andreas Fault which runs laterally along California. At the start of the earthquake, the San Andreas fault had a cumulative strain that caused the Pacific and North American plates to shift. This shift sent a massive tremor from Oregon to Los Angeles and all the way into Nevada.
The tremor lasted for a total of 42 seconds but its repercussions lasted for years longer.
Damage from the San Francisco based California earthquake reached into neighboring areas. San Jose and Santa Rosa were both affected by the San Francisco earthquake.
The main form of repercussions didn’t come from the earthquake itself, either. In fact, most of the damage from The Great Quake resulted from the fires that ensued directly after. Shockingly, the fires caused an estimated 90% of damage to the city. Firefighters struggled to control the growing flames. The fires burned for three days and totally destroyed over 20,000 buildings within a 500 block radius. What the earthquake hadn’t brought down, the fires were eating in black smoke and dangerous smog.
City landmarks like the Palace Hotel were completely destroyed. This was devastating for San Francisco. The Palace Hotel had housed meetings with royalty and politicians from around the world. It was initially constructed in 1875. The hotel came to the ground during the earthquake. It suffered fire damage shortly after.
A major loss to the California community was in the destruction of the original flag used in the Bear Flag Revolt at Sonoma in 1846
. The flag lived in a state building downtown but was set aflame in the ensuing fires that rampaged the city.
In the days following the California earthquake, the air filled with smoke, the streets with looters and the city blocks with dynamite explosions.
To control the rampaging fires, the San Francisco fire chief had dynamite set off in buildings. The dynamite blasted in hopes of creating blocks that would prevent the fires from spreading. Unfortunately, the dynamite ended up creating more fires.
This is the major reason for the damage to San Francisco after The Great Quake. The San Francisco community remained in a tough state of affairs. Relief forces attempted to figure out how to start rebuilding a city that no longer existed.
The United States of America immediately sent in troops due to the chaos that ensued.
After The Great Quake, there was looting and riots taking over the ruined streets. The soldiers stood guard in front of the most important government buildings in the area. These buildings included the US Mint, the post office, and the county jail. The city became so dangerous that the mayor had to make a public service announcement. Mayor Schmitz told all residents that he was giving the army police permission to kill anybody caught breaking the law. He wanted to stop looters and thieves from ravaging San Francisco.
The duties of the troops quickly expanded to providing necessities to the displaced residents. Their job was to provide food, clothing, and shelter. These displaced residents became the number one priority of the troops. It took a month and a half for the San Francisco authorities to be able to handle the damage and repercussions on their own. After these six weeks, the troops were able to leave.
Lotta’s Fountain became the meeting point for family members and friends. The fountain is in the financial district of the city. Parents, siblings, cousins, and friends attempted to find loved ones in the wreckage. They would meet up at Lotta’s fountain in hopes of finding their loved ones. People exchanged any information they had regarding individuals whereabouts. Years later, the fountain is infamous for its crucial role during the earthquake.
As the city attempted to repair itself, they found over $400 million dollars in damage. This would be the equivalent of about $8.97 billion dollars today.
With few homeowners insured for earthquake damage, the city roared in flames. Residents all had fire insurance. They took advantage to ensure they wouldn’t leave without a home by the insurance company.
Homeowners with severe earthquake damage started to set their homes on fire. They knew the insurance companies wouldn’t help them rebuild their homes. By setting them on fire, they had a chance of getting insurance money to construct a new home. San Francisco residents refused to have nothing because of the loophole in their insurance policy.
The insurance companies paid almost $265 million dollars to their customers during the California earthquake.
They only paid customers who suffered severe fire damage during the great California Earthquake. The Great Quake caused immense damage to most of their policyholders. Twenty of the one hundred and thirty-seven insurance companies went bankrupt.
The devastating consequences of the city were purposely not elaborated in the media. California Governor George Pardee and his political party had one fear. They feared that their honesty regarding the scale of damage would scare investors. They wanted investors to continue their motivation towards rebuilding San Francisco. The Governor was aware of the state of San Francisco. He wanted to do everything he could to motivate investors to help them rebuild. The Governor’s motivations to fix the city as quickly as possible showed. He put a reconstruction plan immediately into effect.
Army efforts built accommodation for over 20,000 displaced San Francisco residents. Residents had permission to stay in the relief houses as long as they paid $2 a month. One year after the earthquake, most displaced residents were back home. Shortly after, the relief camp area was used for another purpose. People used the small homes as storage spaces and small businesses. Most of the relief homes became destroyed or vandalized. The relief homes in good condition are now a high commodity. Their distinct part of San Francisco history has priced the 720 square foot home at $600,000.
San Francisco didn’t rebuild off of its old blueprint.
Due to the California earthquake, new communities and health facilities rose in the ashes. Places like the University of California, San Francisco constructed new healthcare facilities. Because of the damage, their motivation came from the tents deemed the hospital headquarters. These tents housed patients that were forced to move out of the hospital. 40,000 patients moved from their hospital rooms into the Golden Gate Park. Each patient had professional health care while living in the park. The University of California opened their Training School for Nurses. They also opened their own healthcare facilities. This was a direct result of helping the patients in the Golden Gate Park.
The San Francisco earthquake also established the Pacific Heights neighborhood. What was once filled with mansions of the wealthy was now demolished and dynamited land. Wealthy residents flocked to the west and a middle-class community took over the region.
By 1915, most of the damage from the California earthquake was unnoticeable.
San Francisco was almost entirely rebuilt. The city celebrated with the Panama-Pacific International Exposition. The exposition states a celebration of a “rise from the ashes.” Every year since the devastating earthquake, the city has a memorial event at Lotta’s Fountain. The survivors and their families join in remembrance of the tragic earthquake.
California plays a dangerous game with Mother nature and her powerful forces. Basically, its proximity to the shifting plates makes it an unpredictable place to live. Several extreme earthquakes have hit California in the past. They haven’t had the catastrophic damage of The Great Quake. Despite their small impact, they remind residents of the tectonic plates.
These shifting plates are the reason for the number of earthquakes in California.
A magnitude 7.9 earthquake hit Fort Tejon in 1857 due to the same shift in the San Andreas fault. The earthquake had major repercussions but only had one fatality versus the 3,000 that occurred in 1906.
In 1872, a magnitude 7.4 earthquake ruptured Owens Valley, collapsing a row of houses and killing 27 people.
A magnitude 7.8 earthquake caused by 155 tremors struck Baja, California in 1892. It luckily only affected a part of California that was largely uninhabited resulting in little to no destruction.
In 1922, a series of California earthquakes struck West of Eureka continuously for 18 hours causing power line outages, but no fatalities.
Experts and California residents are aware of the dangers of the tectonic plates. The shifting plates underneath their homes make California an unpredictable home. Luckily for residents, times have changed. Earthquake insurance is now available for homeowners, and few deny the opportunity. The San Francisco officials and community are more prepared for a natural disaster. Issues like dynamite causing more damage and fires are no longer a problem.
With The Great Quake of 1906 past them, San Francisco managed to rebuild. It is still a well-known city in the world. The Golden Gate residents have shown their optimistic outlook, even when disaster strikes. They have proven that even when times are tough, they are willing to rebuild and help those in need.
In 42 seconds, the city that once rose so high crumbled to the ground.
With resilience and integrity, a few years later San Francisco stood back up, stronger than ever. The San Francisco community has rebuilt from the ground up. They have added new hospitals and neighborhoods. To this day, they are still paying homage to the catastrophic event and the lives lost in 1906.