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The Great San Francisco Earthquake (Photographs from 110 Years Ago)

On This Day: April 18, 1906

At 5:15 a.m., an earthquake estimated at close to 8.0 on the Richter scale strikes San Francisco, California, killing hundreds of people and toppling numerous buildings. The quake was caused by a slip of the San Andreas Fault over a segment about 275 miles long. Shock waves could be felt from southern Oregon down to Los Angeles.

San Francisco’s brick buildings and wooden Victorian structures were especially devastated. Fires immediately broke out and because the water mains got broken, firefighters had a hard time stopping them – firestorms soon developed citywide.

At 7 a.m., U.S. Army troops from Fort Mason reported to the Hall of Justice, and San Francisco Mayor E.E. Schmitz called for a dusk-to-dawn curfew, authorizing soldiers to shoot-to-kill anyone found looting. Meanwhile, in the face of significant aftershocks, firefighters and U.S. troops were to control the ongoing fire, often dynamiting whole city blocks to create firewalls.

On April 20, 20,000 refugees trapped by the massive fire were evacuated from the foot of Van Ness Avenue onto the USS Chicago.

By April 23, most fires were extinguished, and authorities commenced the task of rebuilding the devastated city. It was estimated that about 3,000 people died as a result of the Great San Francisco Earthquake and the devastating fires it inflicted upon the metropolis. Almost 30,000 buildings were burned down, including most of the city’s homes and nearly all the central business district.

1. San Francisco Mission District burning in the aftermath of the San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. The original caption reads: “Probably Fulton Street, near Gough. This was the edge of the fire district.
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2. San Francisco residents stand in the rubble-strewn streets watching the fire grow.
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3. Breuner's furniture store burning out of control in San Francisco at 11 p.m. on April 18, 1906.
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4. San Francisco in flames, April 18,1906
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5. San Francisco residents, some seated in chairs, sit among the earthquake damage, watching fires in the distance.
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6. Smoke rises from burning buildings on the waterfront in San Francisco, California.
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7.People watch as the Winchester Hotel burns in the aftermath of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The Hearst Building (left) was dynamited to use as a fire break between the fire and the rest of the city.
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8. Fire in San Francisco following the great earthquake.
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9. Rescue workers helping survivors in the wreckage.
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10. African American families on street during the San Francisco Fire of 1906.
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11. A crowd on Telegraph Hill watches the burning of San Francisco.
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12. Troops walk east along Market Street after the devastating earthquake of 1906.
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13. Onlookers pose for a photograph as San Francisco burns in the background.
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14. View of earthquake damage and fires across California Street.
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15. A horse-drawn fire engine retires from a fire to move to a new location.
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16. Evacuees drag trunks from the fire on Van Ness Avenue.
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17. Refugees, aid workers, and soldiers clog a San Francisco intersection after the earthquake and fire.
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18. The view northeast from City Hall showing massive damage to San Francisco.
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19. Souvenier hunters.
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20. Ruins of San Francisco, Nob Hill in foreground, viewed from the Lawrence Captive Airship from a height of 1,500 feet on May 29, 1906, 41 days after the earthquake.
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21. Detail of the panorama photograph of a ruined San Francisco, viewed from the Lawrence Captive Airship on May 29, 1906.
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22. After the disaster, looking down Sacramento Street, from Nob Hill, with the Ferry Building in background.
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23. View of Howard Street homes left tilting after the 1906 San Francisco.
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24. Looking up California Street from Sansome Street. See this view today in Google Maps Street View.
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25. Refugees from the disaster rest on a hillside.
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26. The destroyed San Francisco City Hall and dome at McAllister Street and Van Ness Avenue.
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27. The toppled statue of Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz, April of 1906.
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28. A train thrown down by the earthquake at Point Reyes Station. The train was standing on a siding. Beyond are the buildings of the Point Reyes Hotel and, on the extreme right, the ruin of a stone store which was shaken down.
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29. Cooking in the streets of San Francisco.
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30. Bread lines formed across the city as aid distribution centers were established.
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31. A Postal Telegraph tent is set up on Market Street.
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32. Junction of Sacramento, Market, and Embarcadero Streets, and part of the car track loop in front of the Ferry Building.
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33. California Street looking east from Grant Avenue, which was DuPont Street in 1906.
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34. Disruption of Van Ness Avenue over a filled-in ravine. Original caption: “Break in asphalt paving on Van Ness Avenue near Vallejo Street. View shows horse-drawn wagon and buggy traffic.”
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35. Looting a cash register and destroyed buildings at corner of 4th and Market Streets.
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36. Market Street at the junction of Powell and Market, looking east toward the Ferry Building.
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37. Pine St. below Kearney St. See it today in
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Preparing hot food for refugees
Street View.
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39. Families take refuge in tents set up in green spaces and parks across the city.
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Market Street, looking west toward the Twin Peaks, from Battery Street.
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