Econ of Disasters – Unit Introduction

Source: “Six Ways to Compute the Value of the U.S. Dollar,” Measuring (10-30-07) Description

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Source: “Six Ways to Compute the Value of the U.S. Dollar,” Measuring (10-30-07)

“. . . [D]amage in the city was initially limited. There were many collapsed chimneys and broken windows, and numerous buildings lost their facades or roofs, but the majority of buildings survived the tremor. Light wooden houses appear to have held up just as well as the new downtown skyscrapers built of reinforced concrete. . . . For the most part . . . [the houses destroyed by the quake] . . . were either located on ‘made ground’ – filled-in swamp land along the bay – or poorly constructed.

. . . Countless small fires, caused by toppled stoves and open gas flames . . . [broke out] in the center of the city. Dealing with these fires would have overwhelmed the Fire Department’s resources, both in manpower and logistical capabilities, under normal circumstances, but now there were additional problems: the department was without experienced leadership because fire chief Dennis Sullivan had been badly hurt in his house and would die four days later in a hospital, and the earthquake had destroyed San Francisco’s obsolete underground water mains – hydrants throughout the city were useless.
Within a few hours, the fires, spreading north and southwest from the city center, had become an immense conflagration. One block after another was reduced to ash and rubble. Attempts to halt the flames at major streets failed repeatedly. Before the day was over, much of the city center had to be given up as lost. Larger buildings . . . had their own supplies of water, but once those supplies were exhausted the buildings could not be saved. Nor could smaller brick and cement buildings, which had been considered fireproof but now fell victim to the wooden structures that stood adjacent to them.
. . . Among the losses were the new city hall – the largest building in the country west of Chicago – the entire business district, major cultural institutions, and all of the city’s theaters and hotels. More than half of its private residences were destroyed, cheap downtown boarding houses and mansions in outlying neighborhoods alike. Chinatown, home to tens of thousands and the largest Chinese settlement outside of China itself, vanished. . . . [A] handful of federal facilities could be saved even though they were located within neighborhoods leveled by the fire and luckily, the port and rail facilities also escaped damage.
. . . [On] Saturday morning . . . [April 22, 1906] . . . firefighters were able to bring the fire to a standstill at Van Ness Avenue. Helped by favorable winds, they had finally succeeded in creating a firebreak by blowing up still untouched houses. The Fire Department and Army, confronted by a shortage of water, had been experimenting with using dynamite to bring the fire under control; as a result of inexperience, though, they initially did more harm than good.
After a comparatively brief spell of chaos, order was restored. Relief aid provided by the Army and donations from the rest of the country made it possible just a few days after the quake to assure basic necessities for survival to the displaced people camping in the city’s parks. By the weekend, hundreds of thousands of people had been able to leave the city by ferry or on free trains provided by the Southern Pacific Railroad.” (Strupp, 1-9)


Christopher Strupp. “Dealing with Disaster: The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906.” Paper presented at the San Francisco Earthquake 1906: Urban Reconstruction, Insurance, and Implications for the Future symposium, Institute of European Studies, University of California at Berkeley, March 22, 2006. pp. 1-9.

1906 San Francisco Earthquake

The Spanish Flu

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