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San Francisco 1906 Earthquake: The City Remembers The Great Quake 106 Years Later (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

Posted: 04/18/2012 1:33 pm Updated: 04/18/2012 2:42 pm

San Francisco Earthquake

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.


"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."


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.


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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  • San Franciscans watch the city burn.

  • Washington & Mason Car and Powerhouse

  • Howard Street, between 18th Street & 19th Street

  • Washington & Mason Car and Powerhouse

  • Sutter and Polk Car and Powerhouse

  • Washington & Mason Car and Powerhouse

  • Burnt Powell Street Cable Cars on Bay & Taylor Streets.

  • Millbrae Sub Station

  • From safer vantage points, residents stand amid ruined buildings on Sacramento Street, watching fires in downtown San Francisco after the earthquake in April 1906.

  • The Hibernia Bank building is in ruins following the massive earthquake that devastated the San Francisco area, April 18, 1906.

  • Refugees of the great San Francisco earthquake stand outside their tents at the Presidio, San Francisco, Calif., April 1906.

  • Houses lean at bizarre angles on Howard Street near 17th Street in San Francisco following the disastrous earthquake that nearly leveled the city, April 18, 1906. Note how the tall house at center has separated from its foundation and leans against its neighbor.

  • A section of San Francisco, looking east across Grant Avenue toward Yerba Buena Island, shows the ravages of the great earthquake and the resulting fires that nearly leveled the city, April 18, 1906. The Ferry Tower can be seen in the upper right in the background.

  • A photographer in front of City Hall takes photos of the disaster resulting from the April 18, 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, Ca.

  • This is a view of the destruction in Nob Hill resulting from the April 18, 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, Ca. Following the damages caused by the force of the earthquake, fire spread into the area, reducing much of the remaining structures to rubble.

  • The City Hall building is shown badly damaged by the severe earthquake of April 18, 1906 in San Francisco, Ca.

  • This photo shows the buckled pavement and curbstones at the corner of 18th Street and Lexington Street resulting from the earthquake on April 18, 1906 in San Francisco, Calif.

  • This photograph shows the damaged El Camino Real, one of the main Pacific Coastal highways, after the 1906 earthquake at Colma, South of San Francisco.

  • A view of a refugee camp set up for survivors of the massive earthquake that nearly leveled San Francisco, in April of 1906.

  • Residents of Castro Street set up kitchen stoves in the street due to damage to chimneys in the aftermath of the earthquake that nearly leveled San Francisco in April of 1906.

  • Residents of Nob Hill live in tents set up for the homeless, following the devastating earthquake that nearly decimated San Francisco, April 18, 1906.

  • A business posts a sign reassuring customers that their valuables are safe with them, following the devastating earthquake that nearly leveled San Francisco, April 18, 1906.

  • The Fairmont Hotel stands amidst the destruction from the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco. The hotel was originally scheduled to open in April 1906, but was delayed a year because of the earthquake.

  • The Winchester Hotel is shown burning during the San Francisco earthquake on April 18, 1906.

  • Damage to row houses on Howard Street in San Francisco is in evidence as signs of life return to the street following the massive earthquake, April 18, 1906.

  • Red Cross relief is seen in San Francisco after the great earthquake, April 18, 1906.


Filed by Robin Wilkey  |