On April 18, 1906, at 5:13 a.m., an earthquake estimated to be near 8.0 on the Richter scale struck San Francisco, California, killing an estimated 3,000 people while overturning numerous buildings. The earthquake was caused by a landslide from the San Andreas fault over a segment about 275 miles long, and shock waves could be felt from southern Oregon to Los Angeles.
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The brick buildings and Victorian timber structures of San Francisco were particularly devastated. Fires immediately broke out and – because broken water pipes made it impossible for firefighters to stop them – firestorms quickly developed throughout the city. At 7 a.m., U.S. Army troops from Fort Mason marched to the Hall of Justice, and San Francisco Mayor EE Schmitz called for a dusk-to-night curfew. dawn and authorized the soldiers to shoot to kill anyone found looting. Meanwhile, in the face of major aftershocks, US firefighters and troops fought desperately to control the ongoing blaze, often dynamiting entire neighborhoods of the city to create firewalls. On April 20, 20,000 refugees trapped by the massive fire were evacuated from the foot of Van Ness Avenue to the USS Chicago.
On April 23, most of the fires were extinguished and authorities began to rebuild the devastated metropolis. About 3,000 people are estimated to have died as a result of the Great San Francisco earthquake and the devastating fires it inflicted on the city. Almost 30,000 buildings were destroyed, including most of the town’s houses and most of the central business district.