Monday, April 17, 2006

the indomitable San Franciscans: on the centennial of the great quake and fire

One-hundred years ago tomorrow, at 5:12am, the earth shook in San Francisco for 45 to 60 seconds.

The shaking was of such force that much of the city was destroyed—a city which was then America’s 9th largest with about 400,000 citizens. The great fire that followed reduced to ashes what the quake did not completely destroy.

"There was noise and a swaying sensation, and there was a tense vibration, like a strong fist, closed tight, grimly shaking," said Samuel Dickson.

And said Charles Lloyd, president of an ironworks: "The shock came from all directions, up and down, sideways, zigzag and 40 other ways."

Approximately 3,000 San Franciscans died from the earthquake and fire, and the property damage reached $400 million (1906 dollars).

The shaking ruptured 430 kilometers of the San Andreas fault--from San Juan Bautista towards the south to the triple junction of Cape Mendocino in the north--baffling geologists back then because of its immense size and force.

Remarkably, many of the survivors did not abandon the ruin that was once their home. They stayed and they started over.

They buried their dead, picked up the rubble, cleared the mess, and rebuilt the city which would become--a century later--one of America’s major metropolitan areas.

800,000 citizens now live within the city itself while 7 million more dwell in the surrounding Bay Area. 60,000 businesses are now located in the city and $72 billion of total trade pass through its port.

It has become the favorite of visitors and travelers, with 15.7 million visiting every year to admire the city and the area that has been called the “Paris of the West.”

It has been said that “The people of San Francisco are a race of people; not merely inhabitants of a state.”

True that. They have proven to be a race of people possessed of an indestructible will. And some would say that their descendants and the people who now live here possess a daring, even foolhardy pluck, that stare at nature’s threats in the face, and carry on living on this spot of earth which at any time may shake greatly again.

And so tomorrow the city celebrates--to remember and to praise the indomitable spirit of a people, past and present, that would not allow death, destruction, and fear to have the final word.

Here is a story worthy of Easter.

Oscar Wilde said: "It's an odd thing, but anyone who disappears is said to be seen in San Francisco. It must be a delightful city and possess all the attractions of the next world."

It is, and it does.

San Francisco's City Hall (1906)

San Francisco's City Hall today

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