San Francisco Earthquake of 1906

The San Francisco earthquake of April 18, 1906, ranks as one of the most significant earthquakes of all time.

At 5:12 a.m., a foreshock occurred with sufficient force for it to be felt widely throughout the San Francisco Bay area. The great earthquake broke loose some 20 to 25 seconds later, with an epicenter near San Francisco.

Violent shocks punctuated the strong shaking, which lasted some 45-to-60 seconds. The earthquake was felt from southern Oregon to south of Los Angeles and inland as far as central Nevada.

In the public's mind, the earthquake is perhaps remembered most for the fire it spawned in San Francisco.

The damage from the quake itself, however, was equally severe in many other places along the fault rupture. The frequently quoted figure of 700 deaths caused by the earthquake and fire is now believed to be an underestimate of the total loss of life by a factor of three or four. Most of the fatalities occurred in San Francisco, and 189 were reported elsewhere.

A report of U.S. Army relief operations recorded 498 deaths in San Francisco, 64 deaths in Santa Rosa, and 102 deaths in and near San Jose.

A 1972 report suggested that 700-800 deaths is a reasonable figure. After extensive research, however, investigators Gladys Hansen and Emmet Condon estimated that more than 3,000 deaths were caused directly or indirectly by the catastrophe.

The population of San Francisco at the time was about 400,000. The earthquake and fire caused 225,000 people to be immediately homeless.

The number of buildings destroyed during the earthquake and the following fire was estimated at 28,000.

The three-day conflagration burned an area that covered 4.7 square miles. By one count the loss was: wood buildings lost, 24,671; brick buildings lost, 3,168; other, 349; total buildings lost, 28,188.

Monetary loss was more than $400 million, in 1906 dollars, from earthquake and fire; $80 million from the earthquake alone.

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