San Francisco earthquake is one of the unforgettable earthquakes that still are on people’s minds. At 5:12 am on Wednesday, April 18, 1906, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake rocked San Francisco. It was, and remains, one of the most significant earthquakes to hit San Francisco because of the damage it caused by the violent shaking and several conflagrations that were subsequently generated. Reports indicated that the shaking from the earthquake lasted approximately 60 seconds and was felt from southern Oregon to the south end of Los Angeles, and as far inland as central Nevada. Although it lasted less than a minute, the city was burning for three days.


Causes of the earthquake

 San Francisco Earthquake

There are no official statistics of the deaths caused. However, the estimation showed that more than 3,000 people lost their lives that morning, more than 225,000 lost their homes, and 28,000 buildings were structurally affected by the San Francisco earthquake. The total estimate of the damage caused was approximately $2.7 billion. The San Andreas Fault, which gave rise to the quake, had a relative displacement of between 1.65 to 31.8 feet along the 296 miles of the fault.

Insurance companies drove the rapid rebuilding of San Francisco with $180 million in investment. Merchants and business leaders worked tirelessly to return the city to normal. Seismologists studied the dynamics of the San Andreas Fault system to understand the mechanics of displacements in elapsing or lateral faults.

The shaking intensity was so high; as a result, the earthquake, damaged other cities, too. San Jose and Santa Rosa were some of these cities that also got destroyed by the earthquake. Also, the shaking intensity was so high that it was felt in neighbor cities. In the Modified Mercalli intensity scale, it was indicated that the shaking power was XI, which is the strongest; it is called “extreme.”


The damage by the Fire

Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake

The damage of the fire was worse than the San Francisco earthquake itself. According to the research, 90% of the disaster was caused by the fire. The “Ham and Eggs Fire” started one of the largest fire”; a woman who was making breakfast for her family, accidentally started one of the most massive fires in the San Francisco earthquake.

According to the U.S Army Signal Corps, some people were intentionally starting a fire to get insurance payment. The fire was so intensive that it’s battle scars remains today.


Initial help


The following days, Congress tried its best to help those people. After several days from the earthquake, this news was spread to the all-world; the relief effort, according to the report was about $5.000.000. Some people and businesses donated some amount of money to relief the San Francisco earthquake: Andrew Carnegie, Dominion of Canada, Bank of Canada, Standard Oil, etc. that gave thousands of dollars to the rescue.

The House and the Senate Appropriations Committees responded with the tents, water, food supplies, medical aid, etc. However, there were food cooking restrictions because of the fire. There were created nine food depots; the food donations were equally distributed to each civilian. After that, the Army commissary launched restaurants for food distribution.

 San Francisco Earthquake


Beside those initial response, they granted to build the public buildings that were damaged by the San Francisco earthquake and the fire. Other than buildings, the damage by the fire and shock for the alcoholic beverages including liquors was estimated to be $30.000.

The U.S army made other relief efforts. According to the historians, the U.S army’s relief effort was showed itself not only in the aid for the damage but also it improved the civic awareness and the Red Cross.

The insurance companies for only the fire damage paid between $235 and $265 millions of dollars. These flows of millions of dollars and gold profoundly affected the international economy included the rise of the interest rate of the gold. All these financial systems cause the Panic of 1907. It was the crisis of some companies and lack of the availability of the loans.


The fate of San Francisco


 San Francisco Earthquake

San Francisco was the ninth largest city in the United States and the largest in the West Coast. It had about 410.000 population. It was the cultural and trade center on the West Coast. After the earthquake, 80% of the city was in disaster due to the earthquake and the fire.

The city that once was the center of the trade now was in great trouble. Its economics, industry, trade relation, and most importantly its population was hugely damaged. Half of the people, approximately 200.000 civilians, was got homeless. The last official refugee camp could be closed only on June 30, 1908. It took much time to relief the damage, and besides that, it took so many years for San Francisco to recover from the impact.


What if…


What would have happened to San Francisco, if in 1906, Earthquake Early Warning solutions had existed as well as a developed culture of prevention?

The answer is: thousands of lives could have been saved from the fires caused by that San Francisco earthquake. Earthquake Early Warning solutions would have automatically shut off gas valves and electrical power supplies. It is critical that companies, schools, governments, public places, and homes have earthquake early warning systems. These systems provide warnings and the tools to prepare for responses to natural disasters of such magnitude. Leave your contact details here, and we will get in touch with more information about Epicenter.



USGS / Berkeley

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