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The San Francisco Earthquake Of April 18, 1906.

1139 words - 5 pages

The San Francisco earthquake of April 18, 1906 ranks as one of the most significant earthquakes of all time. Today, its importance comes more from the wealth of scientific knowledge derived from it than from its sheer size. Rupturing the northernmost 430 kilometers of the San Andreas Fault from northwest of San Juan Bautista to the triple junction at Cape Mendocino, the earthquake confounded contemporary geologists with its large, horizontal displacements and great rupture length. Indeed, the significance of the fault and recognition of its large cumulative offset would not be fully appreciated until the advent of plate tectonics more than half a century later. Analysis of the 1906 displacements and strain in the surrounding crust led Reid (1910) to formulate his elastic-rebound theory of the earthquake source, which remains today the principal model of the earthquake cycle.The first shock -- at 5:12:05 a.m. -- lasted more than 40 seconds. It was by far the largest, estimated to have been 8.3 on the Richter scale. Its center was just off the coast, around Pacifica. Two of the world's largest tectonic plates, the North American and the Pacific, had lurched past each other at a distance of between nine and 21 feet along the San Andreas Fault. The temblor shook the ground and left a wake of destruction 290 miles long -- from Mendocino to Monterey Counties -- with shock waves that traveled at over 7000 miles per hour.In the city of San Francisco, it toppled chimneys and smokestacks, crumpled wood-frame houses into kindling, threw walls into the streets, and twisted steel rails and cast-iron ducts as if they were pipe cleaners. All the church bells in the city were set to clanging, as if signaling doomsday, the end of the world.It was just before dawn. People poured out of their houses into the darkened streets, some screaming in terror, most of them dressed in their nightclothes. Others were inside, panicked, unable to open the doors to their bedrooms because the quake had knocked their houses out of plumb, jamming the doorframes.The other people were not that lucky. South of Market Street, an area known as "South of the Slot," was full of shoddy, flimsily built rooming houses and transient hotels, some with five floors containing hundreds of cramped, tiny rooms. Block after block of wood-frame buildings had been built on "made ground" that was once part of the Mission Bay swamp; many of them collapsed, killing some people instantly and trapping hundreds, perhaps thousands, of others under immense piles of rubble.In the first seconds of the quake, dozens of people in various parts of the city died in their beds as brick chimneys crashed through walls and crushed them as they were waking.Within minutes, fires broke out from ruptured gas mains, wood stoves, cooking fires, toppled lanterns. No fire alarms rang. The alarm system, headquartered on Brenham Place in Chinatown, was run by wet-cell batteries stored in glass jars on shelves. Every one of the...

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