The San Francisco earthquake needs no real introduction. And that’s true despite the fact that the city surrounding San Francisco Bay is bumped and jostled by a good many quakes each year. Most of them are rather mild and I suppose some that can be detected by seismic equipment aren’t even felt by the public.
But many can be felt, even if only a little. Living in the Midwest, I’ve never experienced an earthquake, so I have no idea what one feels like. I imagine there’s a low rumble and then some wiggling around for a few seconds. Maybe one feels a bit woozy and disoriented, sort of like air- or sea-sickness, but again, I’m just guessing. Californians have a far greater depth of experience than I.
Like I said, most quakes are fairly small, but there have been some biggies. There was a powerful quake that struck in 1989 as the World Series was getting underway…we’ve talked about that one. But when someone mentions The San Francisco Earthquake, just one is being referenced.
The earthquake that struck on April 18, 1906.
Residents of the city were jolted awake shortly after 5:00am by a powerful shock that measured 7.9 on the Richter Scale, as the San Andreas Fault (which runs just west of the city and bay) ruptured along 300 of its 800 miles. I’m not an expert, but from what I’ve read, the San Andreas Fault is where two of the earth’s plates meet. The western plate tends to edge north while the eastern place moves south. Over time, stresses build up as the plates grind against each other. Then the pressure releases in a quake. Most are small, but this particular one was not.
It toppled buildings and homes on a grand scale, causing tremendous damage. But just as devastating was the resultant fire which, combined with the quake, destroyed upwards of 80% of the city. Most of the pictures of the quake’s aftermath show destruction on par with cities that were heavily bombed during the Second World War. More than 3,000 lives were lost and more than half the city’s population was left homeles, making it California’s worst natural disaster, and one of the worst disasters in U.S. history.
Today, structures on the West Coast are built with the various fault lines in mind. Much like Japan, everything is done with “an eye toward the ground.” In every sense, San Francisco is far more prepared to deal with earthquakes than, say, St. Louis, which also sits in relative proximity to a fault. But as I said before, the San Andreas still lurks…