Three-fourths of the city of San Francisco have been destroyed by earthquake and flames. Three hundred thousand people have been rendered homeless, and are facing, for the moment, want and misery. The Federal Government, the States, and the cities, newspapers, societies, and individuals are urging and hurrying aid to the sufferers of the greatest calamity of the kind in American history. No one is blind as to the extent of the disaster. Yet, from every quarter comes that word of cheer and encouragement, of sympathy and friendship, that is so helpful in times of distress, so typical of the American character. Fortunately, says the New York Journal, "it is certain that the spirit of 'Forty-nine' lives in California to-day. The same courage that changed a wilderness into a great State, and a strip of land by the sea's edge into a beautiful city, will do that work again. And from the ashes and the ruins, the blasted hopes, the broken fortunes, there will arise another San Francisco, more beautiful, more worthy of a brave peoplea great monument to the courage, the everlasting determination of the West.
In 1871 Chicago had only about 300,000 inhabitants; the loss she suffered by her great fire was about $200,000,000. San Francisco had a population of 400,000, and her monetary loss will far exceed Chicago's figurea catastrophe perhaps "without a parallel in history," the New York Tribune calls it. The work of devastation, as the story is gleaned from the newspaper accounts, began at 5:13 o'clock on the morning of Wednesday, April 18, when a quaking of the earth shook the business portion and the neighboring tenement district of the city into a mass of ruins. Great buildings, except those newer ones built on steel frames, collapsed like houses of cards. Tenement houses crumbled, and, indeed, the entire city quaked and rocked. Fires broke out immediately in the ruined portion, and breaking gas-mains, helped them on. The breaking of the great water-main rendered the fire department helpless. When the second shock came, three hours after the first, the people were so unnerved that when they felt the first tremor they ran madly this way and that, screaming and crying out, and threw themselves on the ground in agonies of fear. The earth quaked and quivered under them like a jelly, and the air was filled with thunderous sounds. All then joined in a mad flight to the hills and the parks.
And yet, in the very midst of all this panic, the citizens, under the leadership of Mayor Schmitz, organized a committee of safety; General Funston placed the city under martial law and brought the whole garrison of the Presidio, with him, and so far as was possible, order reigned in the chaos. But the fire took up the work that the earthquake left undone and proceeded to wipe out the greater part of the city. Many banks were either completely burned or badly damaged, but in almost every case the vaults remained intact and those banks are rapidly resuming business. Most hotels throughout the city, left by the earthquake, were destroyed by the uncontrollable fire. All the great newspaper buildings and the Western Union Telegraph building were destroyed, thus cutting off communication.
Twenty towns in the neighborhood of San Francisco suffered from the shock. San José, Sacramento, Monterey, Stockton, Berkeley, and Palo Alto are among them. Leland Stanford University, the famous seat of learning, situated in Palo Alto, is a ruin. The university has a $33,000,000 foundation and will be rebuilt. At this writing it is still impossible to calculate the damage. As the New York Sun observes:
"A city dismantled by earthquake and ravaged by fire can give only an incoherent account of the calamity. There are the dead to bury, the injured to succor, and the destitute to be relieved. San Francisco's misfortunes are cataclysmic, and it has no time for exact details. Days must elapse before we have an understanding of the processes of the disaster, or even the extent of it. We know that it is a ruined city, filled with starving and homeless people; but we have no body of facts from which to draw conclusions or read a lesson. How much of the destruction was due to earthquake, and how much to fire has not been determined; and perhaps it never will be."
From the moment the news of the earthquake went abroad scientists in both America and Europe made guesses as to the cause of it. Seismic disturbances are not new to San Francisco. In 1852, 1872, and 1898 San Francisco was visited by pretty severe shocks doing considerable damage. But most scientists agree that the California earthquake had nothing to do with Vesuvius, the two spots being in different geological zones. The causes, in the opinion of Professor Ralph S. Tarr, of the Geological Department of Cornell, are rock movements which are the result of mountain growth. Professor James F. Kemp, of Columbia University, thinks the cause is in the slipping apart of two geological deposits, thus creating a rift. Professor Berkey, of Columbia, is of much the same mind. Professor Pickering, of Harvard, and many other scientists, feel certain the San Francisco disturbance was not of volcanic origin.
No one expects a speedy recurrence of the disaster. The press of the entire country not only prophesy a quick restoration of the city, but they even congratulate San Francisco on its opportunity to show its grit. Says the New York Times:
"Unquestionably San Francisco will be rebuilt. The domestic and foreign commerce of which it is the immediate and indispensable center makes that entirely certain. The vast interests, productive, industrial, financial, mercantile, and connected with transportation, will not be denied. And, paradoxical as it may seem, the completeness of the destruction offers to those in control of these great interests an opportunity unlike any presented to an enterprising and intelligent body of able men in the history of cities."
The assurance given by Mr. D. O. Mills that he would at once proceed to replace his own building there, thinks the New York Tribune, "denoted a spirit which will undoubtedly animate other owners of property at the Golden Gate who have had experiences similar to his." "Lessons," says The Journal of Commerce, "may be learned from this experience which will diminish the dangers of the future." The lessons refer to the water supply and safer construction. "So far as yet appears," adds The Journal of Commerce, "the safety of steel construction, even for high buildings, has been vindicated." "It may be," says the New York Sun, "that there will be an exodus from San Francisco of those who have the means to travel and can find opportunities elsewhere; but they will be in the minority." Most of the inhabitants will doubtless stay and rebuild their city, and, to quote The Tribune again, "Five years hence, there is good reason to believe, they will survey with pride and gratitude a larger and more beautiful city than the one which has just been destroyed." Already the Federal Government is making plans for reconstructing its buildings there. Railway companies have decided to reduce freight on all building material, but the insurance companies, with perhaps some exceptions, can pay only for fire risks. At first they generously offered not to discriminate between fire and earthquake. The appeal of the press on behalf of the city is meeting with generous response. But San Francisco's need is most dire. As The World puts it:
"When General Funston speaks of the danger of a famine, he speaks deliberately and as an officer of responsibility. He sees actually under his eyes conditions which a frenzied writer of fiction would hardly dare depict for the sake of sensation. He has watched the complex machinery of civilization collapse, turn to ashes, and a twisted and grotesque caricature of itself. A great, modern; well-built community has been converted into a blackened, fire-swept desert."
"The desolation and distress touch the deepest sympathy of all," cries the Philadelphia Press; "but they do more than stir the fountains of pitythey must start the streams of instant and generous help." And in a case like this, the New York American puts in, "a million dollars does not go far." This is, in short, a case which calls for assistance not only from the few who are rich, but from the entire country, man, woman, and child, according to their ability. "Give, therefore," adds The American, "give in humanity's name to the limit of your means, and give at once."
Several earthquakes, but they were of small importance, had occurred in California before 1906. Three of these at San Francisco have been described as "destructive," and four as "exceptionally severe," but the worst caused only five deaths and injured only about a dozen old buildings. The earthquake of April 18, 1906, followed by a fire lasting three days, practically destroyed all the business part of the city, and some adjoining districts besides. Elsewhere in California damage was done by this earthquake along the coast region in a belt about fifty miles wide. The damage done in San Francisco by the earthquake itself was small compared with what the fire produced. During the progress of the fire, it was estimated that 200,000 persons camped in the parks and 50,000 others in the military reservation. The fire could not be brought under control because the earthquake had cut off the water supply. The loss in buildings was estimated at $105,000,000, and in property of all kinds at from $350,000,000 to $500,000,000, of which $235,000,000 was covered by insurance. In aid of the sufferers, Congress voted $2,500,000, and the people of the country subscribed about $10,000,000. Within three years the city was practically rebuilt.