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United, we stand; divided, we fall.
Wednesday April 19, 06
San Francisco Razed
After nearly 7 weeks of non-stop rain, the sun came out to glow upon The City By The Bay. So peaceful a Spring day that none would suspect that 100 years ago death and destruction would burn half of their city and take its toll on 6,000 lives; indeed, razed their very homes in a matter of 1 single minute.
The relentless fires which had begun mere hours after the quake that were caused by dislocated flues inside the chimneys. The fires started when people had been preparing breakfast at their wood-burning stoves, thus sparks were set off within the walls of their home.
I shudder at the Fire Dept's panic upon the discovery that all the underground water mains were dislocated leaving all the hydrants without water to extinguish the fires. Before long a total of 52 fires had broke out and devastated The City for 3 straight days and nights.
Ironically, the Fire Marshall Dennis Sullivan was killed during the actual quake so all the fire stations were also left without instructions and somehow had to organise themselves.
Many stupid mistakes were made where entire buildings were razed with dyamite in order to contain the fire from spreading; but that effort back-fired (pardon the pun) when the explosions encouraged the flames.
William Randolph Hearst and Jack London arrived during those 3 days to document in sad detail not only the damage done to The City, but to also describe the hardship of its surviviours. The disaster had levelled everything both literally and figuratively in its path in that the very well-to-do and the working class were struggling alike to find food and shelter. Many were seen dragging heavy trunks containing all their belongings, or heavy bundles upon their back as they had nothing more to call their own. Indeed, many innocent people even lost their lives when shot for disobeying orders if caught looting or wandering beyond assigned park encampments.
It all sounds like something out of Dante's Inferno!
Alas, someone said for those 3 days the sky was entirely consumed by black smoke, that one could not tell if it were day or night, nor if it were sun or moon that shun through the blackened sky. But on the 3rd day as the fire burned itself out into embers, the sun visibly glowed and stared as if a hazy blood-shot eye, blazing red through the smoke.
Yet as Murphy's Law would have it, a much needed rain poured down upon The City the very next day after the 3 day blaze. I can only imagine the tears mixed with the rain as those displaced San Franciscans trudged through the muddy encampments and huddled within their tents, or lined up for food and water. The stench of the ashes must have been something they all never forgot.
And so it was with such imagery and musings that I made my way around San Francisco as an eerie air held heavy with history of a yesteryear, of yesterday - marking the centennial anniversary of San Francisco's 1906 earthquake.
Always the proud native, I often traverse within my city's limits going about my daily activities, yet yesterday I felt infinitely more cognizant of my civic surroundings. Although I do believe that I have lived in practically every neighbourhood, it is within the past 25 years that I have lived near the 2 areas which were hit hardest by the quake and the fires. Thus do I find myself often travelling to and fro between North East and South East parts of The City where rests the unforgotten tales of the ghosts of '06.
My attentions for the past week have been glued to the news reports and various documentaries leading up to this fateful event in local history. I am always fascinated by old film footage from the late-Victorian-early Edwardian era, so I managed to record 6 hours of programmes showing San Francisco at what I consider the beginning of its glamour, 50 years after mining the riches of Gold and Silver.
Shady political shenanigans aside, San Francisco was as Oscar Wilde said, ...an odd thing, but every one who disappears is said to be seen at San Francisco. It must be a delightful city, and possess all the attractions of the next world.
San Francisco in 1906 appears to my eye to have retained all the charm that Oscar saw in it back in April 1882.
Alas, thus eventually charm can be so fatal to even itself...
On a final note, the most obvious detail I caught within the documentaries I recorded was the fact that provisions were sent from all over the United States, including a few foreign countries wanting to help. We are reminded that even back in 1906 everyone from all over the world had some sort of dealings with San Francisco, whether it was just loved ones who immigrated here to live, or business-related transactions. It was heart-warming to see the world come to my city's aid; that way back then America was utterly competent despite the lack of technology we all come to rely upon nowadays. It also occurred to me how sad that it was before the time aeroplanes could fly over-head to drop fire-retardant chemicals since at that time such aeroplanes or chemicals had not yet been invented.
So the most obviously glaring detail to me was again, with all our seeming know-how, HOW could America fail its beloved New Orleans? Why in 1906 could food and water be transported QUICKLY from across America clear across to the extreme West of the country?! My anger at such questions and incompetence is re-visited...
I think we all need to feel a bit razed inside if we hope to change anything wrong with our world. Everything and everyone is inter-connected, we are all affected by Nature's whim and how we respond to it. Disasters do indeed build character and give rise to re-examining how one lives one's life...
Oh, and am I afraid should the next Big One hit in my life-time? Not at all. But given all the information I've taken in for the past week on the seismic conditions our Bay Area fault lines I should be shaking in my shoes, lol. On the contrary, whenever we have a tremor - and especially during the last Big One in 1989 - I feel SO alive! Invigorated. Exhilarated. Everyone seems to be on common ground, as it were - if you know what I mean.