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Incredibly rare historic footage of San Francisco Earthquake in 1906

Ian Smith

The 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck the coast of Northern California at 5:12 a.m. on April 18 with a moment magnitude of 7.8 and a maximum Mercalli intensity of XI (Extreme). Devastating fires broke out in the city that lasted for several days. As a result, about 3,000 people died and over 80% of San Francisco was destroyed. The earthquake and resulting fire are remembered as one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the United States. The death toll from the earthquake and resulting fire remains the greatest loss of life from a natural disaster in California’s history.

This historic footage we found on British Pathe’s channel is Pinewood Stock Cans material and captures the devastating ruins of San Francisco back in 1906.

 

At the time, 375 deaths were reported.Partly because hundreds of fatalities in Chinatown went ignored and unrecorded, the total number of deaths is still uncertain today, and is estimated to be roughly 3,000 at minimum. Most of the deaths occurred in San Francisco itself, but 189 were reported elsewhere in the Bay Area; nearby cities, such as Santa Rosa and San Jose, also suffered severe damage. In Monterey County, the earthquake permanently shifted the course of the Salinas River near its mouth. Where previously the river emptied into Monterey Bay between Moss Landing and Watsonville, it was diverted 6 miles south to a new channel just north of Marina.

Between 227,000 and 300,000 people were left homeless out of a population of about 410,000; half of those who evacuated fled across the bay to Oakland and Berkeley. Newspapers described Golden Gate Park, the Presidio, the Panhandle and the beaches between Ingleside and North Beach as covered with makeshift tents. More than two years later, many of these refugee camps were still in operation.

The earthquake and fire left long-standing and significant pressures on the development of California. At the time of the disaster, San Francisco had been the ninth-largest city in the United States and the largest on the West Coast, with a population of about 410,000. Over a period of 60 years, the city had become the financial, trade and cultural center of the West; operated the busiest port on the West Coast; and was the “gateway to the Pacific”, through which growing U.S. economic and military power was projected into the Pacific and Asia. Over 80% of the city was destroyed by the earthquake and fire. Though San Francisco rebuilt quickly, the disaster diverted trade, industry and population growth south to Los Angeles, which during the 20th century became the largest and most important urban area in the West. Many of the city’s leading poets and writers retreated to Carmel-by-the-Sea where, as “The Barness”, they established the arts colony reputation that continues today.

The 1908 Lawson Report, a study of the 1906 quake led and edited by Professor Andrew Lawson of the University of California, showed that the same San Andreas Fault which had caused the disaster in San Francisco ran close to Los Angeles as well. The earthquake was the first natural disaster of its magnitude to be documented by photography and motion picture footage and occurred at a time when the science of seismology was blossoming. The overall cost of the damage from the earthquake was equivalent to $10,500,000,000 in 2016.