THOUSANDS DEAD AT SAN FRANCISCO: MILLIONS GONE IN FIRES STILL RAGING
The Washington Times
April 18, 1906
City Was Tossed Like a Feather as Shock Came
Great Buildings Rose into the Air, Then Collapsed.
Earth Seemed to Sink
Walls Rocked and Wobbled Like Frail Things in a Storm.
SAN FRANCISCO, Cal., April 18. - Amid a heap of bricks and mortar which heap up about the telegrapher,1 this story of the awful calamity2 that has befallen San Francisco; a calamity that in seriousness and magnitude makes the recent eruption of Vesuvius3 appear trivial, is being sent.
It was exactly at 5:15 o'clock this morning that the city was tossed about like a feather by the wind. The earth seemed to sink for a moment and then the buildings to rise in the air like a balloon. Then there was a short of sinking, the like of which no mortal ever experienced a second time. Then the buildings of the town rocked and wobbled like a frail thing in the storm.
No mortal can ever experience the peculiar sensation that accompanied this upheaval twice, for not city can twice withstand such a shock. Three minutes after the awful earthquake the town was a mass of torn streets and the city filled with automobiles and hacks.4 Immediately a force of volunteer rescuers appeared and the work of gathering the dead and injured began without delay.
The shock of the trembling earth was followed by a multitude of fires, which swept the water front and the southern portion of the city, destroying within an hour over $20,000,000 worth of tenements5 and business property.
The catastrophe came like a thunderbolt out of the clear sky. Tuesday was an ideal Western day, made up of bracing breezes and a soothing sunset. The night came on like a quiet sleep. Hundreds of hacks and automobiles wheeled and whirled to the opera to hear Fremstadt and Caruso in "Carmen," as the day died away and the night stole on.
The Grand Opera House was thronged with music loving people. Then came the end of the show and the after supper. Later diners had scarcely reached their homes when the entire peninsula6 was rocked like a reed in the wind.
At first the bystanders thought the trembling of the earth was an ordinary quiver. Then the cornices of the main buildings began to drop into Market street. The rattling of the brick and the shrieks of the wounded mingled in a sound of horror.
The Postal Telegraph Building is still rocking like ocean waves, in consequence of a second shock, a little more than three hours after the first shock.
Word has just been received of the death of Fire Chief Sullivan and Policeman Fenner. They died like heroes fighting the fire.
Already the ghouls7 are in action, and in consequence a regiment8 of soldiers has been detailed from the Presidio to watch the business district. Martial law9 will, in all probability, prevail10 as a result of the advent of the ghouls.11
The public library, donated to the city by former Mayor James D. Phelan, is a mass or disordered bricks, and the picturesque tower of the new city hall is a mere skeleton of rusted steel.
EMERGENCY HOSPITALS OPENED.
At the morgue twenty-five bodies have been received, and the authorities have pressed the Mechanics pavilion and the basement of the Hall of Justice into service as an emergency hospital.
The magnificent office of the Postal Telegraph Company, on Market street, opposite Second, is a mass of broken telegraph instruments and heaps of brick and plaster. Hysterical women and frenzied men are rushing about offering to do anything in their power to get the news of San Francisco's fate to the world. Word has just been received of the burning of the Winchester House, on Third street, between Mission and Market, and of the magnificent Aronson building, on the corner of Mission and Third streets.
The sight of the thousands of poor who have been rendered12 homeless by the combined efforts of the tossing earth and flames is pathetic in the extreme. Women are seen by the hundreds heaped up on piles of blankets appealing to the firemen to save the remaining sticks of their furniture. Mothers with babes in their arms rush about frantically screaming for their husbands. The shrieking of these women and the crackling of the flames produce a sound that is simply appalling.
Word has just come in that Police Sergeant Bunner was crushed in the collapse of a fire house.
Numerous fires are reported from the Potrero district. This is the section of the city that surrounds the Union Iron Works, where the great battleship Oregon was built. Throughout the entire southern portion of the city buildings are momentarily reported to have collapsed. This section of the city is made up of small tenements.
The Grand Opera House, where Metropolitan Opera company was playing, is now in flames, and the adjoining buildings, which are occupied by manufacturing, are rapidly giving way to the flames.
SWIRL OF FIRE ENDS AND HOPE RUNS HIGH
April 22, 1906
People's Courage Grows Strong as the Flames Subside
The fire has been stopped. Relief work is progressing favorably. The financial outlook is bright. Work of clearing the city has begun. The people are courageous and cheerful. Those who have not reached homes of relatives or friends will be succored13 well. The situation is one of hope.
GREAT FIRE STOPPED AT CITY FRONT
Conflagration14 That Has Raged Three Days Is at Last at an End.
Saving of Wharves and Ferry Building Accomplished by Fire Boats.
Fire Department Loses Houses and Apparatus,15 and Many of Its Hose Lines.
Shortly after dawn yesterday morning the conflagration that brought suffering and ruin to San Francisco reached its limits and concluded its work of destruction. After raging for a period of three days, fought desperately, in face of its tremendous advantage, it subsided when it had reduced hundreds of blocks of valuable property to ashes and rendered over 250,000 people homeless
Dynamite accomplished the work of staying of the flames on Van Ness avenue and in the Mission District.16 The water front checked the hurricane of fire on the north and east, while Channel street served to good advantage on the south. The area of ashes and desolation runs south of Market street from the water front along Channel as far west as Twenty-second, between Bryant and Dolores streets. On the north of Market it extends beyond Van Ness avenue as far as Laguna street in Hayes Valley, but it continues along the line of Van Ness avenue north of Golden Gate avenue, except for a distance of
five blocks, where it reached Franklin street. It is bounded on the north and east by the waters
of the bay.17
In this vast territory but few buildings remain. Several surmount18 the summits of Russian and Telegraph hills and scattered about in the heart of the ruins are a few more. The appraisers' building stands on Washington street, though fire was all around it, and a short distance up the building known as the Washington block withstood the fire under the same conditions. On lower Howard street a large structure was untouched and along the water front several warehouses and factories resisted the fury of the destroyer.
LAST STAND OF FIREMEN.
The last stand taken by the firemen was on the water front and ferry building, which latter seemed doomed late Friday night. Fire and tug boats were utilized in keeping down the blaze which swept around Telegraph Hill from the wharves19 that extend from Lombard street. The numerous streams of salt water thrown upon the blazing structures subdued the fire and saved the sheds. Then the great blaze had exhausted itself and the fire fighters withdrew. The fire had been stopped at Van Ness avenue late Friday night.
Just east of Telegraph Hill a cluster of buildings, including the Asti Colony's wine warehouse, the plant of the American Canning Company20 and the Merchants' Ice and Cold Storage Company, escaped destruction. The branch freight office of the Southern Pacific Company was also spared and a number of freight cars on the Belt Railroad were moved from time to time and saved. The contents of these cars were taken by the Government and hauled to the food headquarters. About 100 cars were burned on sidetracks and adjacent freight landings at the foot of Broadway.
REMOVING THE DEBRIS.
Work of clearing away the debris from the principal thoroughfares21 used for transportation between the ferry and the inhabited districts was begun yesterday. The military authorities pressed men into service and heaps of brick and other wreckage were moved from the center of the streets. Trolley and other wires were taken down by the Board of Electricity, and the work of tearing down dangerous walls will begin very soon. The Government will undertake the task of removing the bulk of the wreckage. This will occupy a great deal of time and will give employment to a large number of men. The street repairs will be attended to by the Board of Public Works and the street railway companies.
Many of the thoroughfares are in extremely bad condition, due to the earthquake, and in the burned district the street railways will all have to be rebuilt. Tracks are warped and twisted and cable slots closed. The rolling stock of a number of lines, including the Powell, Jackson, Sacramento, California, O'Farrell, Sutter and Union street lines, together with their power houses, were completely destroyed.
After the fight to save the ferry and the wharves had been won by the fire fighters Chief Shaughnessy found the department in a dilapidated22 condition. Twelve engine houses had been destroyed and the Central fire alarm station was out [of] existence. There were several engines and hose wagons lost, along the two sections of the seawall when the fire swept from North Beach. The flames approached so rapidly that the firemen were obliged to abandon the machines and run for their lives to places of safety. A large number of horses were killed and some of the engines are badly scorched and put out of commission. As soon as the telephone service is restored in the city it will be utilized for the sending in of alarms until the Board of Electricity can secure a new Central station.
The department is also sadly in need of hope. Thousands of feet [of hose lines] were destroyed during the conflagration and but little is available for use. Yesterday Chief Shaughnessy telegraphed to Los Angeles, Sacramento, and Oakland for chemicals with which to charge the tanks of the chemical engines. Small fires still blaze among the ruins and the department, in the absence of a water supply, must rely on its chemical engines to extinguish them.
The population of the last district to be destroyed spread in many directions. Most of the poorer classes are destitute23 and helpless and but little of their personal effects were saved. Fishermen's wharf was not damaged and Meiggs wharf survived. Both of these are crowded with humanity. Many people have taken refuge along the water front, but the bulk of people from this district is quartered on vacant lots and at Fort Mason.
PLACE OF REFUGE.
There are two public squares in the district - Washington and Portsmouth - the latter opposite the Hall of Justice. It is in charge of Detective Sergeant Charles Taylor and contains many of the Police Department records.
With the assistance of many brave policemen and citizens, who have remained with him since Wednesday afternoon, Taylor has established a model place of refuge, buried the dead, while fire raged around, and fed thousands who were victims of the disaster.
The Chinese and Japanese population, for the most part, have decamped.24 The few that loiter25 in the vicinity of their homes are fed in the square, but the majority stampeded to Oakland and huddled into the heathen26 quarter of that city. They are cared for by their fellow-countrymen and by the various relief committees.
A. police officer, a sailor and John C. Ennis of Company. E, First Artillery, prevented the fire from crossing Van Ness avenue at California street at the risk of their lives. They extinguished a small blaze on the corner of the building and would have saved the structure had not the fire come from the south.