On April 18, 1906, a powerful earthquake followed by subsequent fire devastated San Francisco, leaving more than 3,000 people dead and destroying over 80% of the city’s infrastructure and buildings. The earthquake also destroyed the city’s water mains, leaving firefighters with no means of combating the growing blaze, which burned for several days. The fires coalesced into three major blazes — south of Market, north of Market, and in the Hayes Valley, west of the shattered City Hall. Fanned by high winds, this malevolent trio soon united to become one raging firestorm.
The earthquake struck at the coast of Northern California at 5:12 am. High-intensity shaking was felt from Eureka on the North Coast to the Salinas Valley, an agricultural region to the south of the San Francisco Bay Area. At that time, the population of San Francisco was approximately 4000,000 and 250,000 of them were made homeless. 28,000 buildings turned into debris and the damages were estimated at around $500 million (in 1906 dollars).
San Francisco has a history of surviving disasters, and despite the disastrous destruction caused by the earthquake, San Francisco managed to recover quickly and effectively from the earthquake as the city survived during the Gold Rush period. The destruction actually allowed the architects and planners to rebuild a new and improved city. Not long after the disaster, a sign appeared that poked fun at an East Bay rival and summed up the San Francisco spirit. ‘Eat, Drink, and Be Merry,’ the slogan read, ‘For Tomorrow We May Have to Go to Oakland.’ By 1915 San Francisco hosted the Panama Pacific International Exhibition.
These horrible historical photos perfectly depict the destruction caused by the devastating earthquake and firestorm.