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The Great Shake: San Francisco 1906
page 6 of 10, Exploratorium


Images of San Francisco after the earthquakeIt was not yet dawn. People poured out of their houses into the darkened streets, some screaming in terror, most of them dressed in their nightclothes. Others were inside, panicked, unable to open the doors to their bedrooms because the quake had knocked their houses out of plumb, jamming the doorframes.

They were the lucky ones. South of Market Street, an area known as "South of the Slot," was full of shoddy, flimsily built rooming houses and transient hotels, some with five floors containing hundreds of cramped, tiny rooms. Block after block of wood-frame buildings had been built on "made ground" that was once part of the Mission Bay swamp; many of them collapsed, killing some people instantly and trapping hundreds, perhaps thousands, of others under immense piles of rubble.

In the first seconds of the quake, dozens of people in various parts of the city died in their beds as brick chimneys crashed through walls and crushed them as they were waking. Fire Chief Dennis Sullivan lived on the third floor of the fire station on Bush Street between Grant and Kearney. At the first movement of the quake, he had sprung out of bed and gone to check on his wife, who was sleeping in another room. Smokestacks from the California Hotel across the street crashed through the roof of the station, and the cascade of falling bricks carried Sullivan and his wife all the way to the first floor. Sullivan suffered severe head and chest injuries, and died a few days later.



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Life Along the Faultline © 1999, The Exploratorium