1906 San Francisco Earthquake Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Debra Patuto

Debra has taught at elementary levels and has an M.ed with certification in elementary education and special education

About one minute was all it took took to rock San Francisco to its core. Let's explore the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, how it felt, and how the city recovered and revived itself in the aftermath.

The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake

The San Andreas Fault is a huge fault line that spans (a fault is a crack in Earth's bedrock) more than 800 miles through California. When a fault ruptures, the bedrock on either side of the crack can move, causing an earthquake, and that's precisely what happened on the morning of April 18, 1906.

At 5:12 a.m., about 296 miles of the San Andreas Fault running right along San Francisco ruptured, creating one of the most devastating earthquakes in recent history. There were only two major tremors, or shaking events, that lasted a total of about 1 minute, but they caused massive destruction. Of the 400,000 San Franciscans at the time, about 3,000 died and 225,000 were left homeless.

The earthquake destroyed homes and other buildings throughout San Francisco.

Experiencing the Earthquake

The epicenter, or center point of the earthquake, was just 2 miles west of San Francisco in the Pacific Ocean and could be felt for 100 miles away. It began with a light rumble followed by the first tremor that shook San Franciscans for about 25 seconds. Then, there was a 10-second calm before the second tremor began. This one was much stronger and lasted about 40 seconds. People described it as the Earth swaying, and all around, buildings tilted, crumbled and fell. By the end of the quake, 28,000 buildings had collapsed.

After the earthquake, fires broke out throughout the city.

While earthquakes are devastating, many people don't realize that damage continues to occur during the aftershocks, which are smaller quakes following a major earthquake. Aftershocks lasted for hours, and during this time, fires began to rage throughout the city. Fires continued burning for three days and nights, adding to the destruction. Water pipes burst, sewer pipes were damaged, streets buckled and railways were destroyed. It was difficult for firefighters and other first responders to get to the areas impacted the most.

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