On the evening of April the 17th, 1906, the people of San Francisco went to bed as usual. The city was a bustling hive of life, a burgeoning metropolis barely 60 years old that had already become known for its colourful style, grandiose mansions, majestic hotels and blooming arts scene. Little did the city’s residents know upon retiring for the night that, just before dawn, their lives—and their city—would be changed forever.
At 5:12 am the next morning, a brief foreshock hit the city. Doors and windows rattled in their frames and loose plaster crumbled from walls. But this was just a taste of things to come, for a mere half minute after the initial tremor, the real earthquake struck, and with the epicentre only three miles from San Francisco herself, the city was hit very hard indeed.
The massive tectonic movements would make some wonder if Armageddon itself had come and that the world’s end was close at hand. For many unfortunate souls this was partly true, for the brutal power of the earthquake would bring an abrupt end to many lives.
Buildings quivered and fell, ejecting bricks in all directions. Huge cracks appeared in the previously smooth asphalt roads. People, carts and animals disappeared into vast chasms that suddenly opened in the ground beneath them. Chimneys toppled like felled trees. Rows of buildings collapsed like houses of cards caught in a sudden draught. It all happened so fast that many were killed while still in their beds. The entire city was rocked by the massive power of an earthquake that could have registered as high as 8.25 on the Richter Scale—so strong that it was felt as far away as southern Oregon, Los Angeles and as far inland as central Nevada.
The colossal seismic upheaval would last barely a minute, but the devastation it wrought would be regarded as one of the worst natural disasters in the history of the United States.
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