Lessons Learned From The 1906 Earthquake

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The 1906 earthquake in California was the most significant one to date. At the time, San Francisco was the richest and most important city on the Pacific coast. It boasted a population of over 400,000 and was the eighth largest city in the nation. That peacefully prosperous scenario changed at 5:12 am on April 18, 1906.

 A Shock Registered Around the World

Without warning, residents of the city were abruptly awakened by a vigorous jolt and strong roar. Floors and buildings began to shake violently, making it difficult to stand. The shaking lasted for 25 to 30 seconds.

Within a few minutes after the shaking stopped, fires broke out throughout the city. Unusually warm weather, ruptured water lines and the detonation of explosives resulted in an intense firestorm that lasted three days and reached temperatures over 2000°F. When it was all over, over 3,000 people were killed in San Francisco alone, 28,000 buildings were destroyed, and more than 225,000 were left homeless. The earthquake and its aftermath was and still is America’s most devastating natural disaster.

There was no pre-seismic warning activity in the days, weeks and months before the quake. Originating offshore from San Francisco, this 7.8 earthquake ruptured the San Andreas Fault in two directions, and strongly shook all of northern California. The event was strong enough to be recorded on six area seismometers and around the world in 90 different stations.

Understanding the Cause of Natural Disasters

Natural disasters are caused by natural changes occurring to the planet. They can be caused by the erosion of soil, changes in air pressure, ocean currents, and by seismic activity. Such natural events have been happening since the earth was first formed, and continue to cause damage and loss of life around the globe. Because the earth is constantly changing, natural disasters will continue to be a part of mankind’s experience.

Learning from the 1906 Quake

Until that time, earthquakes had only been considered a nuisance in the Pacific region. However, the 1906 event sparked the birth of earthquake science in the United States. The first government sponsored scientific investigations into earthquakes were launched. Scientists explored theories and made measurements and observations.

A basic understanding of quake mechanism resulted. Earthquakes were identified as caused by faults and movement of the earth’s crust, rather than other way around. A continuing earthquake research program has identified the location of faults and potential earthquake zones, the probabilities of quakes occurring and even makes predictions of the strength of potential quakes. Such useful information has resulted in significant changes to building codes that will, for example, reduce the impact of future events.

Predicting When an Event Will Occur

Even with the considerable expense and effort expended, it is not yet possible to predict specifically when an earthquake will occur. Although earthquakes do not cooperate, it is possible to identify long-term probabilities. Models suggest that fault slips in the San Andreas Fault will occur every 200 years or so, and that one could probably occur in the next thirty years. While this is useful information, it does not help residents of the area plan their day.

A worst-case scenario of another earthquake of the same magnitude striking San Francisco today suggests up to 6,000 would be killed and thousands more injured. More than 150,000 structures would be damaged and over 700,000 left homeless. Damages would likely exceed $125 billion.

Preparation is Key

Basic steps include:
• Identifying and fixing potential hazards in the home
• Developing a disaster preparedness plan understood by all family members
• Preparing disaster supply kits
• Fixing potential structural weaknesses in a house
• Knowing what to do for protection during an earthquake
• First aid training
• Knowing how to check a building damage from a quake

Every family should develop a specific plan to follow in the event of a quake. Local agencies and the Internet offer very useful guides and checklists to help in this planning. A family’s quality of life and the potential for survival are greatly increased by being prepared.

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The Importance Of Being Ready For A Natural Disaster

home interior after natural disasterThere are few things in the world that can take someone by surprise more than a natural disaster. There are often few, if any, warning signs to indicate when such an event may occur. Worse still, just because it has only been a short time since a natural disaster struck one particular area does not mean that it can not happen again soon. Places on the Earth tend to attract certain natural phenomenon on a regular basis, so being prepared for the worst is always the best decision.

1906 Earthquake

An example of one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history is the infamous 1906 San Francisco earthquake. This massive disaster claimed around three-thousand lives and managed to devastate more than eighty-percent of the entire city. Fires raged through the crumbling remains, threatening the lives of everyone that lived there. The earthquake and the resulting fires still stand as the most destructive disaster in the history of California.

Just as with the case of the 1906 earthquake, natural disasters often spark a chain reaction of other, smaller problems that can be just as dangerous as the initial tragedy. When an earthquake comes, fires usually follow in its wake. If a hurricane hits, houses are crushed and people drown. Tornadoes can also cause serious fires. When bad things happen, they tend to happen in groups, so one has to be ready to deal with more than just the disaster itself.

For this reason, foresight is the best way to deal with any potential threat. If one knows what to have ready beforehand, what to do when the disaster is actually underway and how to go about recovering when the disaster is over, it increases the chances of survival. Knowing all the ways in which one’s life can be threatened is key to being prepared.

Food & Water Storage

Having plenty of food and fresh water is top priority during the period after a disaster strikes. Often, recovery efforts will take time. If the tragedy is particularly devastating it can take rescue workers and other assistance teams hours or even days to successfully evacuate everyone from a disaster zone. Having enough to eat and drink will greatly increase chances of survival in worst-case scenarios.

Just as important is the need to have a decent stock of medical supplies. Doctors and other trained medical personnel will be dealing with hundreds and sometimes even thousands of wounded all at once. This is far beyond their capability to operate and so the more one can do for themselves, the better. A basic first aid kit will generally do the trick, though people trained in medical fields may wish to have more supplies available, just in case.

One last thing to remember about natural disasters is that they can wreck havoc on all forms of communication and transportation. Land line phones are often inoperable,  internet connections will be unavailable and even cellular service can become an issue due to the volume of calls placed as people search out their loved ones to see if they are okay. For this reason, one should not count on being able to get a hold of family or emergency services for some time. Nor should one assume that they will be able to drive out of an affected city. Road damage and debris can often prevent safe travel. Preparations for a natural disaster should be made under the assumption that one will be isolated.

While natural disasters can be destructive and horrible things, they are not the end of the world. With careful preparation one can ensure that even the worst results of a disaster can be alleviated. Being aware of which natural disasters are likely to strike in an area and what local governmental agencies advise one does to prepare for them is the best strategy. Only by neglecting proper preparation does one truly put themselves in the path of danger.

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History Lesson From The SF Earthquake Of 1906

Dead horses from the 1906 SF earthquake 1906

The great San Francisco earthquake on April 18,1906 was one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. It devastated 375,00 square miles, totalling $8 billion of damage in today’s dollars. More than 1/4 of the city was destroyed; 600 people died (and possibly more), and 225,000 were left without homes. The 8.3 Richter Scale quake taught lessons on emergency preparedness–what not to do and what to do.

 

 

Know What May Happen in Your Town.

Do not be ignorant of what can happen in your community. The people of San Francisco were caught unawares. All citizens what could happen–earthquake, tornado, flood, hurricane, blizzard, fire. Also, disasters cause compounded problems. With devastated buildings and infrastructure, fire was the second biggest culprit of destruction in San Francisco. Insurance policies and procedures to assess damage and award claims were re-vamped to be quicker and more accurate in the future.

Cities and Towns Should Plan

Each municipality needs a disaster plan. The 1906 earthquake left people living in tent camps set up by the U.S. Army in the Presedio, Fort Point and Golden Gate Park. General Frederick Funston declared martial law to keep order, and field hospitals cared for the injured. Care went well enough to prevent epidemic disease after the disaster.

Ideally, government, private agencies, such as the Red Cross, and volunteer citizens would have a hand in evacuating displaced persons to schools, churches and other facilities. Consider the disabled, children, seniors and pets. Get involved in a local emergency preparedness group or start one.

Communication fell apart in the 1906 earthquake, but then the U.S. Army Signal Corps re-established it by connecting telegraph wires to the War Department in Washington. Nowadays, cell phones are critical, but they can be disabled by natural disaster. Ham radio operations on an individual and town level can get information to where it needs to go.

The American Red Cross Recommends Emergency Kits.

Here’s what each family’s kit should contain:
-1 gallon of water per person per day
-3 days of packaged/canned food/pet food
-flashlight and batteries
-bleach, hand sanitizer and wipes
-prescription drugs
-toilet paper and feminine hygiene products
-radio
-documents such as passports, birth certificates and insurance papers
-a multi-purpose tool
-map
-blankets
-cell phone
-cash

Also, the Red Cross says at least 1 person per family should be CPR and first aid certified. Check your local chapter for opportunities to train.

Understanding previous natural disasters such as the 1906 earthquake and thoughtfully planning for emergencies on a municipal, personal and family level will help minimize injury, mortality, disease and other aftermath calamities.

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Damage & Effects

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The Great 1906 Earthquake in San Francisco was probably one of the most destructive natural disasters to hit a major city in the US. It killed 3,000 people and the resulting fires destroyed at least 80 percent of what remained standing in the city when the ground stopped shaking.

Deaths and Damage

Soon after the earthquake, only about 375 deaths were recorded partly due to the lack of reports of deaths in Chinatown. Today the official number stands at 3,000 deaths as the minimum, including deaths in the Bay Area, Sta. Rosa and San Jose.

The earthquake damaged property as well, displacing 300,000 people and sending them out to live in makeshift camps on the beaches of Oakland and Berkeley where they remained for almost two years.

A majority of the damage was not caused by the earthquake, however, but by the fires that followed. In the course of three days, fires that started due to broken gas lines destroyed about 25,000 buildings and burned for four days and nights due to the city’s lack of firefighting resources, with the water mains broken during the earthquake. The Navy helped put out the fires by running water lines and using their steam engines to provide water, but once the fires were put out, 1/4 of San Francisco was already destroyed. The earthquake also caused significant damage to other towns, completely destroying the downtown areas of nearby San Jose and Sta. Rosa.0_21_041506_quake

The earthquake destroyed landmarks as well, such as the Palace Hotel and important museums such as the California Academy of Sciences, as well as state buildings that housed important historical artifacts. It also resulted to permanent changes in topography. The earthquake changed the course of the Salinas River, diverting its outlet from Monterey Bay to an area north of Marina.

Overall Financial Cost

Due to the extent of the damage, the earthquake cost the city 8.2 billion dollars in today’s value. The city was rebuilt relatively quickly, but the earthquake caused economic progress to be diverted to nearby Los Angeles while San Francisco was being rebuilt. The city did receive ample aid in the form of investment from local and international sources such as China and Japan. Apart from providing people with permanent relocation sites, the city also rebuilt and expanded the transportation infrastructure with municipal railways and new streetcar routes. It also rebuilt and improved water storage and delivery systems. Citywide reconstruction was nearly complete by 1915.

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The Morning Of April 18, 1906 in San Francisco

1906 Earthquake Headline in newspaper

On the morning of April 18, 1906, the city of San Francisco, California, was just beginning to wake up when a massive earthquake hit in two major shakes. The preliminary one struck at 5:12 a.m. and was followed 20-25 seconds later by one of the worst natural disasters the U.S. has ever known. San Francisco was the epicenter of the earthquake that probably measured around 8 on the Richter scale.

Richter Scale

Early in the 20th century, instruments were not as accurate as those in the 21st century. Scientists are still discussing exactly how strong this earthquake was, estimating it to be from 7.8 to 8.3 on the Richter scale. The San Andreas Fault had been discovered only 11 years earlier. San Francisco is actually east of the San Andreas Fault, which runs along the edge of the Pacific Ocean at that point, almost where water meets land. The city lies on the edge of the North American tectonic plate, which slips and bumps against the Pacific Plate in what is known as a right-lateral strike-slip (horizontal).

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During the 1906 earthquake, the earth ruptured for about 280 miles — 200 miles continuously — along the fault line. The quake was felt northward into Oregon, southward to below Los Angeles and inland to central Nevada. Violent shocks and strong shaking caused brick and wooden Victorian homes and buildings alike to tumble down. Many people were killed in their beds by flying debris. Among the people killed by debris was the city’s fire chief, which likely played a role in the devastation that would follow.

As the buildings collapsed, fires were loosed and quickly torched their surroundings, spreading into firestorms. Broken water mains and lines prevented the firefighters, hampered by lack of leadership, from fighting the ever-growing blazes. To create firebreaks, entire city blocks were dynamited in an attempt to bring the flames under control. That job took four days.

Measuring Damage

By that time, about a quarter of the city, including the central business district, was destroyed, 3,000 people were dead and half the population of 400,000 people were homeless, forced to bed down in parks and refugee camps that sprang up. People across the country and around the world sent relief. The federal government passed legislation to aid the city.

In 1906 dollars, the property damage was estimated to have been from $235-500 million, which was about the amount of the entire federal budget that year. The amount is equivalent to between $4.8 and $10 billion or perhaps even higher in today’s dollars.

Once San Francisco was rebuilt, it was better in many ways than before as the construction followed a plan. Another significant result of this major disaster was the amount of scientific knowledge gained about earthquakes. Much of what is known about earthquakes today was gleaned by scientists studying the 1906 earthquake that devastated San Francisco.

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What If The “Big One” Hits Today?

Earthquake prone San Francisco An earthquake jolt of 4.4 magnitude hit Los Angeles on the morning of March 17, sending TV news anchors diving under their desks for cover. Though it caused some shock and unease, the tremor turned out to be a non-event, with little in the way of damage or injury reported.

However, what are the chances of an earthquake the size of the famed 1906 San Francisco quake, which devastated that city and killed more than 3,000, hitting today? That quake was estimated to have a magnitude of 7.8. What would happen should the “Big One” hit?

Predicting the next “Big One”

Scientists have predicted that California has a 99 percent chance of experiencing a serious earthquake of magnitude 6.7 or higher within the next 30 years. A 1906-type quake has a 46 percent probability. The threat is higher in the southern part of the state, with Los Angeles having a 67 percent chance of a 6.7 earthquake and San Francisco coming in at a 63 percent probability.

The prognostications are part of the Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast, which was developed by group of scientists from multiple disciplines and sponsored by the U.S. Geological Survey, among other organizations. The study, the first of its kind, used new technology and techniques to combine data about earthquake geology and seismology to establish the predictions. The intent was to provide planners and public officials with information they can use to better prepare the region for earthquake effects and the aftermath.

According to the study, while earthquakes cannot be prevented, the damage they cause can be reduced with proper planning. The 1906 earthquake can be taken as a lesson learned of the necessity for preparedness. The city’s tremendous devastation came primarily from fires that ignited following the quake, not the tremor itself. The city’s infrastructure was so damaged that hydrants and other sources of water were not available to fight the blazes.

Predicting the Damage

Should the Big One hit the San Andreas Fault near Palm Springs, scientists believe the damage to Los Angeles could be three times greater than previously believed because of a funneling of the seismic waves into the downtown region through a 60-mile corridor. This would damage an area that is populated by more than 13 million, located between the Santa Monica Mountains and Newport Bay and stretching to the basins of the Santa Anna and San Gabriel rivers.

This also would devastate the area’s economy and damage the nation’s, with 430,000 businesses and 4.5 million employees — one of every 15 workers in the nation — directly affected. The region, which covers seven counties, generates more than $206 billion in wages per year.

The quake likely would cause major damage to lifelines that cross the region, including water and sewer lines, fiber optics cables, dams, bridges, petroleum pipelines, and overhead transmission lines. More than 23 percent of the value of the nation’s good pass through the two major ports at Los Angeles and Long Beach, which likely would be damaged along with rail and road transportation facilities. Adding to the disruption, three quarters of the health care workers and 71 percent of the educators for the region live in the areas that would be most affected.

California sits within what is known as the Ring of Fire, a belt surrounding the Pacific Ocean where the earth’s greatest seismic activity is located. About 90 percent of the globe’s earthquakes happen in this region. This belt has been more active recently, with sizable quakes in Peru and Chile and moderate tremors throughout the ring reported in March.

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Earthquake Facts

Image of earthquake terminology The past two decades have experienced some of the largest earthquake events on record. Some have resulted in thousands of lives lost, while others have had less impact on local residents. The most destructive quakes have registered over 6.5 on the Richter scale, with many well over 8.5

Current Earthquakes in the News

The latest, in 2012, occurred in the region of the Philippines and off the coast of Sumatra. The quake that occurred off the coast of Sumatra registered 8.6 but did not result in any loss of life. However, the quake occurring in the Philippines registered 6.7 and resulted in 113 lives lost.

In 2011, a quake registering 9.0 on the Richter scale occurred off the East Coast of Japan, resulting in nearly 21,000 lives lost. 2010 saw two major quakes. In Haiti, the 7.0 magnitude quake took over 31,000 lives, while the 8.8 magnitude quake off the coast of Chile resulted in 192 lives lost. the earthquake in Chile shook many cities for about 3 minutes. Tremors could be felt as far north as the Southern region of Peru. It is apparent that greater magnitude quakes don’t necessarily take more lives, depending on location and proximity to coastlines.

Two major quakes occurred in 2009, an 8.1 in the Samoan Islands and a 7.5 in Southern Sumatra. The Samoan quake took 192 lives, while the one in Sumatra claimed over 1,000 lives. In May, 2008 another quake in Eastern China took over 87,000 lives, registering 7.9 on the Richter scale. No other major tremors were recorded in 2008, though the quake in China was the most devastating of the decade.

In 2007, two major events occurred, in Southern Sumatra and near the coast of Peru. An 8.5 magnitude quake claimed the lives of 25 people in Sumatra, while the 8.0 magnitude tremor off the coast of Peru claimed over 500 lives. These quakes were not as devastating as others of similar magnitude. However, the quakes of the past decade seem to reoccur in many of the same regions of the world.

Other quakes, ranging from 6.3 to 9.1 occurred from 2004 through 2006. Three of these occurred in Northern or Southern Sumatra, with a 9.1 magnitude quake occurring off the coast of Northern Sumatra in December, 2004, claiming nearly 23,000 lives.

Between 1994 and 2003 several quakes struck in less common areas, such as 7.9 magnitude quake that shook central Alaska in 2002.
Though these earthquakes are some of the most severe, tremors of lesser magnitude can cause damage and physical harm. They can also disrupt the daily lives of millions.

In 2001 a 7.7 magnitude tremor shook India. Afghanistan and Iran also experienced quakes in 2002 and 2003. At magnitudes of 6.1 and 6.6, the tremors still caused plenty of damage and claimed many lives. Southern Iran lost over 31,000 in 2003.

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The Importance Of Being Ready For A Natural Disaster

Earthquake Fault in CaliforniaThere are few things in the world that can take someone by surprise more than a natural disaster. There are often few, if any, warning signs to indicate when such an event may occur. Worse still, just because it has only been a short time since a natural disaster struck one particular area does not mean that it can not happen again soon. Places on the Earth tend to attract certain natural phenomenon on a regular basis, so being prepared for the worst is always the best decision.

San Francisco’s Devastation

An example of one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history is the infamous 1906 San Francisco earthquake. This massive disaster claimed around three-thousand lives and managed to devastate more than eighty-percent of the entire city. Fires raged through the crumbling remains, threatening the lives of everyone that lived there. The earthquake and the resulting fires still stand as the most destructive disaster in the history of California.

Just as with the case of the 1906 earthquake, natural disasters often spark a chain reaction of other, smaller problems that can be just as dangerous as the initial tragedy. When an earthquake comes, fires usually follow in its wake. If a hurricane hits, houses are crushed and people drown. Tornadoes can also cause serious fires. When bad things happen, they tend to happen in groups, so one has to be ready to deal with more than just the disaster itself.

For this reason, foresight is the best way to deal with any potential threat. If one knows what to have ready beforehand, what to do when the disaster is actually underway and how to go about recovering when the disaster is over, it increases the chances of survival. Knowing all the ways in which one’s life can be threatened is key to being prepared.

Having Emergency Supplies

Having plenty of food and fresh water is top priority during the period after a disaster strikes. Often, recovery efforts will take time. If the tragedy is particularly devastating it can take rescue workers and other assistance teams hours or even days to successfully evacuate everyone from a disaster zone. Having enough to eat and drink will greatly increase chances of survival in worst-case scenarios.

Just as important is the need to have a decent stock of medical supplies. Doctors and other trained medical personnel will be dealing with hundreds and sometimes even thousands of wounded all at once. This is far beyond their capability to operate and so the more one can do for themselves, the better. A basic first aid kit will generally do the trick, though people trained in medical fields may wish to have more supplies available, just in case.

Communications and Transportation Loss

One last thing to remember about natural disasters is that they can wreck havoc on all forms of communication and transportation. Land line phones are often inoperable, Internet connections will be unavailable and even cellular service can become an issue due to the volume of calls placed as people search out their loved ones to see if they are okay. For this reason, one should not count on being able to get a hold of family or emergency services for some time. Nor should one assume that they will be able to drive out of an affected city. Road damage and debris can often prevent safe travel. Preparations for a natural disaster should be made under the assumption that one will be isolated.

While natural disasters can be destructive and horrible things, they are not the end of the world. With careful preparation one can ensure that even the worst results of a disaster can be alleviated. Being aware of which natural disasters are likely to strike in an area and what local governmental agencies advise one does to prepare for them is the best strategy. Only by neglecting proper preparation does one truly put themselves in the path of danger.

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