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The San Francisco Earthquake struck San Francisco on 18 April 1906; shocks were felt in Oregon, Los Angeles and central Nevada. The earthquake itself is believed to have registered a 7.8 on the moment magnitude scale; it caused over 3,000 fatalities and $400 million worth of property losses. As many as 300,000 were left homeless.


The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 broke gas and water mains, which caused over thirty fires with swept through the city, demolishing 25,000 buildings on 490 city blocks. The loss of water mains left the city’s fire department without the resources to fight the fire. The firefighters themselves worsened the damage when they attempted to create firebreaks using dynamite. They were untrained in the use of dynamite, and furthermore, their Chief, Dennis T. Sullivan, who might have provided the necessary supervision, had been killed in the quake itself.


In the immediate aftermath of the quake, the official death toll was set at 376, as government officials feared to frighten away real estate investors. Building codes were made more stringent, and the neighborhood of Pacific Heights emerged. On 1 August 1909, the California Senate enacted the California Standard Form of Fire Insurance Policy, which decided that providers of earthquake insurance would also be held liable for damage caused by subsequent fires. Chinatown was rebuilt as it exists today; because the City Hall and Hall of Records were destroyed, thousands of Chinese immigrants were able to claim residency and citizenship, and bring their relatives from China.


Since 1915, the city of San Francisco has commemorated the earthquake of 1906 by gathering survivors at Lotta’s Fountain, which served as meeting point where survivors looked for loved ones and exchanged information during the disaster.


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