Date: April 18, 1906, 5:12 a.m.
Magnitude: 7.8 (estimated)
Dead: 700 (although some archivists estimate the toll at closer to 3,000)
Damage: 28,000 buildings destroyed
"Not in history has a modern imperial city been so completely destroyed. San Francisco is gone. Nothing remains of it but memories and a fringe of dwelling-houses on its outskirts," wrote author Jack London in his eyewitness account detailing the devastation of the great earthquake of 1906.
Nearly a minute of severe shaking crippled the city, toppling buildings into the streets. The quake sparked several fires, which turned into huge conflagrations and burned out of control for three days. Nearly 600 city blocks were consumed.
More than 200,000 people, almost half of the city's population, were suddenly homeless. Thousands camped in Golden Gate Park, watching flames sweep the city. The mayor issued a proclamation authorizing police to kill looters. Refugees packed trains heading anywhere away from the San Francisco Bay Area.
"Everybody in San Francisco is prepared to leave the city, for the belief is firm that San Francisco will be totally destroyed," wrote a local newspaper on April 19. "Downtown everything is ruin. Not a business house stands. . . . On every side there was death and suffering yesterday. Hundreds were injured, either burned, crushed or struck by falling pieces from the buildings."
Among the strongest earthquakes ever recorded on the North American continent, the temblor was felt from southern Oregon to Los Angeles and east to central Nevada. Nearly 300 miles (480 kilometers) of groundalmost half the length of Californiabroke along the San Andreas Fault.
If a similar quake struck Northern California today, experts say, the results would be catastrophic. Thousands of people would be killed and economic losses would reach the hundreds of billions of dollars.
Seismologists believe a period of strong quake activity may be under way in the area now, and the U.S. Geological Survey reported in 1990 that there is a 67 percent chance of a magnitude 6.7 quake or above hitting the San Francisco Bay Area before the year 2030.