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San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 - Summary

As the people slept, the ground below them was moving. At first, during the early hours of April 18, 1906, no one knew that something in San Francisco was wrong. But then the rolling motions came. Streets would rise, then fall, then rise again. It seemed, to one eyewitness, that the earth was breathing.

 The earth appeared to breathe because far below its surface two tectonic plates (the North American and Pacific) were slipping. That slippage caused the earth's crust (along the San Andreas fault) to move (at its peak) about twenty feet (six meters). The moving plates were about to cause the earth to shake.

At 5:12 a.m., on April 18, 1906, sleeping residents were rocked by an 8.3 magnitude earthquake. The trembling was so intense that it ruptured hundreds of miles along the San Andreas Fault and was noted in Gottingen, Germany (9,100 miles away). San Francisco, the bustling seaport and most-populous city on the West Coast (in 1906), was in ruins.

Adding to miseries of the natural disaster, fires erupted throughout town. At the time, horse-drawn vehicles provided the main means of transportation. But with their horses afraid of the spreading inferno, fire-fighters could not be completely effective.

Overwhelmed, local police and rescuers were aided by men from the U.S. Army and Navy. Working side-by-side, people tried to save what they could.

The devastated city burned for three more days. Historians estimate a total of three thousand people died.

After the rubble was cleared, the new San Francisco sprang to life more quickly than anyone could have imagined. Many people thought the new was far better than the old.

In this story behind the disaster, take a virtual visit to San Francisco during the week of the quake. Read eyewitnesses testimony. Study photographs at the National Archives. Watch a video preserved by the Library of Congress. Discover hourly maps, created by the USGS (United States Geological Survey), which locate “felt quakes” in California and throughout the world. Learn about tectonic plates and use graphics and animations to better understand how earthquakes occur.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5124stories and lessons created

Original Release: Apr 01, 2006

Updated Last Revision: Nov 09, 2016


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"San Francisco Earthquake of 1906" AwesomeStories.com. Apr 01, 2006. Oct 22, 2017.
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