Sometimes history is exciting. At times it’s illuminating. Now and again it sheds the light on what’s possible. And then there are those times when it’s just plain devastating.
As hard as it may be to look at the latter, history is still history – the story of “what happened” in a particular time, place, and with the people involved.
In 1906, California suffered one of the worst disasters in not only its history but the history of this country.
In the wee early morning hours of Wednesday, April 18, 1906, at 5:13 a.m., a magnitude 8.0 earthquake on the Richter scale (which interestingly, although widely used today, had not been conceived of until about 1935) rocked the city of San Francisco.
The quake resulted from a major shift in the San Andreas Fault, which extends roughly 800 miles from Cape Mendocino at the northern end, to the Salton Sea, the largest lake in California which straddles both Imperial and Riverside Counties, at the southern tip.
In what historians estimate to have been about 45 to 60 seconds, the city, which took the brunt of it as the epicenter, lay in near ruin.
The violent shockwaves and aftershocks were felt for miles north to southern Oregon, as far south as Los Angeles, and even across the state line into Nevada.
Some 30,000 homes, businesses, churches, schools, social centers, and other structures were affected.
The area of the fault where the earth shifted extended only approximately 275 miles, yet the results were absolutely dreadful.
In only a few seconds, this home was lifted completely off of its foundation.
Yet one of the biggest tragedies of this disaster was the resulting structural fires.
Because the quake broke most of the city’s water mains, there was no way to stop the fires from spreading. As a result, they burned and destroyed perhaps more buildings than would have been damaged beyond repair by the quake. The structural loss, as devastating as it was, could not compare to the loss of life. When all was said and done, a conservative estimate of 3,000 were killed. Some historical accounts say it may have reached as high as 6,000 people.
There were a few bright spots in the rubble, including this city monument rising above the ashes.
To this day, the April 18, 1906 earthquake holds the unfortunate distinction as not only one of the most devastating earthquakes in the world, but sadly, as one of the worst disasters in U.S. history.
Not to be morose, but if you have an interest in disasters that have taken place in The Golden State, you’ll likely find the article,
These Are The Most Dangerous Volcanoes in Northern California, a fascinating read.
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