Destroyed buildings along California Street in San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fires.
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National Archives Still Picture Records Section, Special Media Archives; Photograph by Department of Defense, Department of the Army, Office of the Chief Signal Officer

The Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906

Most people in San Francisco, CA were still asleep when an earthquake shook them awake early in the morning of April 18, 1906.

It was a very strong earthquake. It lasted for only about a minute, but caused a lot of damage. Buildings fell down. People were trapped under rubble. What made things worse was that fires started in the city soon after the shaking stopped. The fires grew out of control and burned for three days.

The earthquake happened when there was a sudden movement along the San Andreas Fault. This fault is the boundary between two of the Earth's tectonic plates.

After the earthquake, an engineer named Herman Schussler explored the San Andreas Fault where it cuts through the nearby mountains. He noticed that entire mountains had been moved several feet during the earthquake.

So many buildings had been destroyed by the earthquake and fires that more than half of the people who lived in the city were homeless. People lived in tents and other shelters. They cooked and ate their meals outdoors. But it didn't take long for people to start picking up the pieces.

"San Francisco is beginning to rise again out of its ashes," wrote Samuel Fortier a week after the earthquake and fires. "There is no lack of confidence," he continued. "The courage of the people is simply remarkable. The thousands who have lost about all they possessed are wonderfully cheerful, and one seldom hears any whining."

Last modified May 20, 2008 by Lisa Gardiner.

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