On this day in 1906 a severe earthquake struck San Francisco. The tremor and fires resulting from it destroyed 80 percent of the city. One observer described the initial upheavals as waves, “‘The whole street was undulating. It was as if the waves of the ocean were coming towards me, billowing as they came.'”
Over 3000 people died, though the actual number remains unknown due to official ignoring of Chinatown causalities. Firefighters were unable to cope with raging fires due to broken water mains. Soldiers were ordered to shoot on sight anyone engaged in looting.
One quarter million people were made homeless by the quake. It is considered along with Hurricane Katrina one of the worst disasters in U.S. history. The catastrophe was caused by a rupture of the San Andreas fault.
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