At 5:12 a.m. on April 6, 1906, San Franciscans leapt from their beds as a 7.9 earthquake rocked the city.
Shaking was felt from Oregon to Los Angeles, from Nevada to the crumbling Pacific Coast. The roof of the Grand Opera House collapsed, the city erupted into flames and the original flag from the 1846 Bear Revolt was incinerated.
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"We could not get to our feet," said survivor P. Barrett in a 2006 account to NPR. "Big buildings were crumbling as one might crush a biscuit in one's hand."
When the dust and flames finally settled, at least 3,000 people were dead and more than 200,000 were homeless. The city, a thriving metropolis moments before, was reminiscent of ancient ruins.
"As small as I was I remember my mother carrying me down the stairs with her left arm as she held on to the banister," said earthquake survivor Herbert Hamrol in an interview with NBC in 2006.
Hamrol's family was one of thousands who lost their homes to the disaster.
"People had no homes, no food, nothing," he said. Hamrol told NBC that his parents rarely spoke of the day. "I think it was just too painful for them."
BUILDING A GREATER CITY
But in the earthquake's dark cloud, San Francisco's had a lining like California silver.
"The great earthquake of 1906 was the making of the city as we now understand it," said San Francisco Symphony Director Michael Tilson Thomas in a documentary. "It was a great disaster, but the city rallied to not only rebuild the city, but to try and rebuild a city that was of much greater significance than the one that had been destroyed."
In the years after the quake, San Francisco took the opportunity to resurrect the city as it had never been before. Within years, San Francisco had not only rebuilt its infrastructure, but had also added a neoclassical civic center, a subway system, Coit Tower, the San Francisco Opera, the San Francisco Symphony and, soon after, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
The city skyrocketed from the ashes.
HONORING THE MEMORY
On Wednesday, 106 years after the tragic quake, San Francisco honored its recovery with a commemoration, a parade, a survivor dinner and, at 5:12 a.m., a wreath laying ceremony at Lotta's Fountain -- the Market Street site where survivors posted pictures of missing loved ones in 1906. Three of the four remaining survivors were honored at the annual survivor dinner.
“As we observe the anniversary of the 1906 earthquake and reflect on other recent major earthquakes around the world, I encourage all San Franciscans to take steps to become better prepared for any emergency,” said Mayor Ed Lee in a release. “And, as we ask our citizens to be prepared, the City is also taking steps to upgrade infrastructure that will serve us during an emergency."
Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White joined the mayor. "We are reminded on this date each year that we must remain diligent in our efforts to be prepared, as individuals and as a community."
To commemorate the anniversary, the SFMTA also released a series of never-before-seen photos from 1906. See those and others in our slideshow below, courtesy of SFMTA. Then watch Scenes of the San Francisco Fire and Earthquake courtesy of The Earthquake Channel:
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