Accessibility links

San Francisco Marks 100th Anniversary of Devastating Earthquake

  • Elaine Lu

San Francisco, one of the most colorful and historic cities in the United States, is about to celebrate the 100th anniversary of a massive earthquake. This report was produced by VOA's Mandarin Service and is narrated by Elaine Lu.

At 5:12 on the morning of April 18th, 1906, San Francisco was heavily damaged by a magnitude 7.9 earthquake. The raging firestorm that followed lasted three days, and consumed most of what remained. Of the city's 400,000 residents, more than 3,000 lost their lives; 225,0000 lost their homes.

Today, the city remembers the devastating quake with a soulful mass at the Grace Church, and an evocative photographic exhibition called After the Ruins, featuring Mark Klett's modern re-photography of images taken after the disaster.

Karin Breuer, is the curator of the exhibition, which documents what was a busy and active city. “This again is the San Francis Hotel, which withstood the quake quite well, but did not survive the fire. There are a lot of charred windows.

And this is one of our famous houses in San Francisco. It's called the Octagon House. It has eight sides.”

Photographers captured some of the relief efforts: material was transported by train and then by horse-carriage to reach people on the streets.

Among those hard-hit by the disaster was the Chinese community. Anti-Chinese sentiment was strong -- immigration restrictions were in effect -- and the Chinese could not count on aid from others.

Lew Hing owned two canneries in West Oakland, across the Bay from San Francisco. When refugees turned up, Lew Hing took them in.

Bruce Quan is the greatgrandson of Lew Hing. “What my greatgrandfather immediately did was to open up the cannery grounds to the Chinese refugees. He hired cooks to cook Chinese food for them.”

The city of Oakland has now established a Lew Hing Day in honor of his humanitarian efforts.

San Francisco was rebuilt in short order -- recovering sufficiently to host a world exposition just nine years later.

The grandeur of San Francisco's City Hall testifies to its indomitable spirit. It has the tallest dome in the U.S., and is one of the most quakeproof structures in the city.

San Francisco, however, is far from being quake proof -- or safe. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the probability of a magnitude 6.7 or above earthquake by the year 2032 is as high as 62 percent.

It was the San Andreas fault, one of the eight major faults in the San Francisco Bay area that slipped and caused the 1906 quake. The most likely site for the next big earthquake is thought to be the Hayward fault, which runs along the east side of San Francisco Bay through Oakland and Berkeley. It is now exposed for the public to see.

How prepared is San Francisco for another earthquake like the one a century ago? Resident Bruce Johnson says, “This is earthquake country, we have to be prepared.”

Johnson is the spokesperson for San Francisco's Earthquake Centennial Events. "As a citizen in San Francisco, it is your responsibility to prepare yourself and your family to survive."

But for the next few days’ residents of San Francisco want to enjoy the celebration of the city's resilience and rebirth after the 1906 quake -- and not worry about what's coming next.

XS
SM
MD
LG