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Video:The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake

with Milo De Prieto

The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake was a devastating event with a lasting impact on the nation. Learn about America's first documented natural disaster and it's legacy in this About.com video.See Transcript

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Transcript:The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake

Hello I’m Milo for About.com and today we’re talking about the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. 

The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake's Shocks

The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake is still, to this day, one of the biggest natural disasters in U.S. history.  The quake struck in the early hours of April 18th, 1906 with an initial shock shaking the city awake at 05:12am, only to be followed by the main quake around 25 seconds later.

The Earthquakes Immediate Devastation and Resulting Fires

In the course of less than a minute, huge swathes of the city were destroyed. Buildings of the day literally couldn´t stand up to such a force and many instantly began to collapse en masse, killing people in their beds.  Those who survived the initial disaster were equally unlucky as many found themselves trapped in the rubble.  Ruptured gas pipes and up-turned ovens led to an even deadlier danger as thousands of individual fires were ignited. These individual fires quickly joined together to engulf the city, killing many more people.

Rescue Efforts in San Francisco and Abroad

Although early estimates were staggeringly low, it is now largely thought that up to 3000 people lost their lives. The damage the earthquake caused to the city's infrastructure made the rescue effort arduous.  Roads were either blocked by debris or simply ripped up by the shockwaves, and the supply of water to fight the fires was limited due to broken water mains.  It took four days just to get the flames under control.  

When the smoke cleared, the haunting image of a city in ruins became one of the first natural disasters of which there is a clear photographic record.   Of a population of 400,000 people, over half were left homeless. Once news of the devastation began to spread, the world did not delay in reacting.  Both financial aid and practical supplies were sent from within the US and abroad. Insurance companies began to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars (in prices at the time), leading to the collapse of many insurers. Reconstruction plans immediately began to be drawn up, while in the interim, "tent cities" began to emerge and soup kitchens were set up to help house and feed the survivors. 

Legacy of the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake

One of the main legacies of the 1906 quake was a change in the understanding of seismic movements in the Earth's crust. Studies of the quake led to a much greater appreciation of how rocks are able to effectively "store" masses of energy. In what is now called the elastic-rebound theory, scientists discovered that tectonic plates put pressure on each other where they meet. This pressure can build slowly for years, or even centuries, until a sudden earthquake releases this built-up energy. 

Thanks to the study of this and other quakes, modern buildings are now better able to withstand these sudden movements of the Earth´s crust. This new knowledge has also helped emergency managers plan for the inevitable – whenever it may come. 

For more excellent, insightful, and interesting information on the 20th Century, check us out at About.com. 

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