Today Is the 118th Anniversary of the Great San Francisco Earthquake


The California earthquake of April 18, 1906, ranks as one of the most significant earthquakes ever. Today, its importance comes more from the wealth of scientific knowledge derived from it than from its sheer size.

Two thousand people died right away, and forty thousand homes were destroyed. That caused rats to rush in, leading to an outbreak of Bubonic Plague. It took three years to eradicate the Plague.


“At almost precisely 5:12 a.m., local time, a foreshock occurred with sufficient force to be felt widely throughout the San Francisco Bay area. The great earthquake broke loose some 20 to 25 seconds later, with an epicenter near San Francisco. Violent shocks punctuated the strong shaking, which lasted some 45 to 60 seconds.

This photograph, taken by George Lawrence from a series of kites five weeks after the great earthquake of April 18, 1906, shows the devastation brought on the city of San Francisco by the quake and subsequent fire. The view is looking over Nob Hill toward business district, South of the Slot, and the distant Mission. The Fairmont Hotel, far left. dwarfs the Call Building. (photo courtesy of Harry Myers).

“The earthquake was felt from southern Oregon to south of Los Angeles and inland as far as central Nevada. The highest Modified Mercalli Intensities (MMI’s) of VII to IX paralleled the length of the rupture, extending as far as 80 kilometers inland from the fault trace.

“One important characteristic of the shaking intensity noted in Lawson’s (1908) report was the clear correlation of intensity with underlying geologic conditions. Areas situated in sediment-filled valleys sustained stronger shaking than nearby bedrock sites, and the strongest shaking occurred in areas where ground reclaimed from San Francisco Bay failed in the earthquake.

“Modern seismic-zonation practice accounts for the differences in seismic hazard posed by varying geologic conditions.”

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