It’s hard to imagine the devastation of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The disaster, and the resulting fires, claimed the lives of over 3,000 people and left 80 percent of the city in ruins.
The earthquake, which struck on April 18, 1906, ruptured 296 miles of the San Andreas Fault with an epicenter in the middle of San Francisco. People as far away as Oregon, Los Angeles and Central Nevada felt the tremors, which lasted for 40 to 60 seconds.
Although the earthquake caused major damage to the city, the fires, which were caused by broken gas mains, did even more. It is estimated that fire caused 90 percent of the total destruction. Broken water mains compounded the city’s problems, and it took four days to bring the situation under control. Many property owners torched their own buildings because insurance policies of the time did not cover earthquake damage.
The destruction not only killed thousands, but it left half of the city’s population homeless and destroyed over 28,000 buildings. Many of these buildings were dynamited by firefighters who were trying to contain the raging fires. The earthquake preceded modern tectonic science, and its true magnitude is unknown. However, seismologists estimate that the event had measured 7.7 to 7.39 on the Richter scale.