Chilling photos of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fires set the city ablaze
"When San Francisco Burned" by Douglas L. Gist
On the morning of April 18, 1906, people living in the San Francisco Bay Area awoke to an earthquake. It lasted only a minute, but its consequences would devastate the region.
Louis P. Selby, an amateur photographer, was working in his family's confectionery shop on Market Street when the greatest natural disaster that ever hit San Francisco occurred. Selby grabbed a camera and took to the streets to document the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake.
More than a century later, Selby's grandson published the never-before-seen photos in a book: "When San Francisco Burned: A Photographic Memoir of the Great San Francisco Earthquake and Fire of 1906." Here's what happened in San Francisco through the lens of a local.
The 1906 earthquake struck San Francisco with a rough magnitude of 7.9 and ranks as one of the most significant earthquakes of all time, because of its severity and the damage it caused.
Massive fires followed the earthquake and swallowed entire city blocks whole. The tremors broke the city's water mains, making it nearly impossible for firefighters to quell the blaze.
The fires burned for several days and decimated some 500 city blocks. Half of San Francisco's population — roughly 250,000 people — was left homeless.
Most residents escaped the fires with just the clothes on their back. The rich and the poor alike were hungry, thirsty, filthy, and distressed — unable to contact their families.
An Army general based in San Francisco later wrote that the city had "in forty-eight hours, not only been relegated to conditions of primitive life, but were also hampered by ruins and debris."
The public desperately needed drinking water, so engineers began working on a backup system on day one. The US Navy brought water and milk on ships.
Relief stations were also set up by the US Navy and Army to distribute blankets, tents, and food. Here we see soldiers giving handouts in Jackson Square Park.
Refugees waited in long lines for bread. Cooking indoors was forbidden to help mitigate the risk of spreading fires.
Looting became an issue. People ran into burning buildings and rummaged through the rubble.
Three thousand people died in the aftermath of the earthquake and fires.
People took shelter in tents and small wooden cottages, which became known as "earthquake shacks," in city parks and in the Presidio. Meanwhile, aid flowed in from around the world.
Surprisingly, San Francisco bounced back quickly. The wipeout gave city planners an opportunity to build better, safer infrastructure.
The earthquake of 1906 remains the most devastating disaster San Francisco has ever seen.
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