Friday, April 18, 2008

April 18, 1906 - 5.13am The Great San Francisco Earthquake

Today is the anniversary of the great San Francisco earthquake.

San Francisco was wrecked by a Great Earthquake at 5:13 a.m., and was then destroyed by the seventh Great Fire that burned for four days. Hundreds, perhaps even thousands of people who were trapped died when the South-of-Market tenements collapsed as the ground liquefied beneath them. Most of the buildings immediately caught fire, and those trapped could not be rescued. In 1980 the 1906 data compiled on the earthquake was reevaluated. This new data placed the total earthquake death toll at more than 3,000 from all causes and damage was estimated at $500,000,000 in 1906 dollars.

In the article Photo Of The Week - April 14, on Shades Of The Departed, I discussed the photographer John R. Hodson, who had a photography studio at 416 Geary Street in San Francisco on this date. I commented on the fact that Hodson's wife and family were not recorded in the 1910 census. Geary Street was at the center of the earthquake devastation. Perhaps his family died during the earthquake and its aftermath, or perhaps they survived but refused to remain in San Francisco. I wish I knew.

The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco has a wonderful online exhibit. Here you will find:

Photographs of the 1906 Disaster
April 18-23 Earthquake Timeline
The Mayor’s “Shoot-to-Kill” Order — April 18th
Earthquake Newspaper Clippings
Eyewitness Accounts
“Who Perished” List of Dead from the 1906 Earthquake
San Francisco Fire Department Report
Police Department Report
U.S. Army Operations During the Earthquake and Fire
U.S. Navy Operations During the Earthquake and Fire
Engineering and Scientific Reports
Southern Pacific Railway Company
Relief and Recovery Efforts
San Francisco One Year Later
Gladys Hansen’s Earthquake Almanac 1769 - 1994

I have an affinity for earthquakes, or perhaps better said, they have an affinity for me.

I lived in California during the Loma Prieta Earthquake. The epicenter was in the Santa Cruz Mountains which was very close to where I was at 5.04pm on October 17, 1989. I had stayed late at the office to interview the parents of one of our clients. The law office was in downtown San Jose, and was in a beautiful converted Victorian home. Oddly enough, the man and his wife I was interviewing were from Seattle.

The quake hit and everything went flying. The TV flew from one side of the room to the other. We got under the desk while the house swayed back and forth for what seemed an eternity. It is the sounds I remember the most, almost as if the ground itself was howling in pain. When it stopped, my clients got out immediately. They had never been in an earthquake. I had, but not like this.

All the bookshelves had toppled over and every office was piled high with the law. Broken glass was everywhere. Plants, pictures, lamps, everything was on the floor.

My boss, the athlete, had lined the tops of all the bookshelves with his trophies. The seat I had been sitting in just before the earthquake had been impaled by one of his largest baseball trophies. The bat on the trophy had gone all the way through the seat of the chair. I stood and stared, at least it wasn't me.

The phones didn't work and I couldn't reach my husband or my children. I was so worried about them. I started for home. When I walked out the front door of the office the dust was still rising from the building across the street which had collapsed. The absence of noise was equally frightening.

No traffic lights were working. My twenty minute ride home took four hours, I stopped at every pay phone to try to reach my husband. People panicked. I arrived home to find that our pool had been struck by a tidal wave and emptied itself onto our patio and my bedroom, but my husband and children were there, we were all together and safe. Others were not as lucky.

When I moved to Seattle, I thought I had left that all behind me, but I was a part of one of the strongest earthquakes to hit Washington State. Much to my chagrin, I was featured in an article in the state's legal newspaper about my experience, but I'll save that for another day.



Blogger Janet Iles said...

I enjoyed reading about your experience with an earthquake. How fortunate you were to have not been sitting at your desk and that your family was safe.

Interesting on the anniversary of the quake in San Francisco that an earthquake in Chicago was felt in places in Southern Ontario. (I didn't feel it. I live too far north.) Fortunately, all my experiences with earthquakes have been very minor. While on holidays in Jamaica, I thought someone was shaking my beach chair, but the news later reported a small earthquake. My most recent experience occured while I was sitting at the computer at the reference desk at the public library. What a strange sensation. It sounded like the furnace was starting up but it was the wrong time of the year. The library patrons were wondering -- what should they do? others just continued what they were doing.

April 19, 2008 at 6:59 AM  

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