Early one morning the great Italian singer, Enrico Caruso, was sitting on a box in a city street. He was wearing his night clothes and smoking a cigarette. He himself had carried the box down a lot of steps from his bedroom in the Palace Hotel, and the servants had no paid much attention to him. No one was paying much attention to him now, as he sat rather sadly in thestreet. The street was a street in San Francisco, California. The date was 18th April. 1906. it was the day of the great earthquake.
Earthquakes were not uncommon in San Francisco, and there had been bad ones in 1868, 1898 and 1900. but the results of the earthquake of 1906 were the worst of all. It first struck the city al twelve minutes past five in the early morning of April 18th, and lastedone minute. This was the event which brought Caruso down into the street with his box. Like many other people at same time, he felt safer outside the building than inside.
A minute seems a short time when one is in a pleasant place, and sometimes it passes much too quickly. But in a earthquake it is terrible long. At one moment you are living your usual life. At the next your chairs and tablesare dancing on the floor, your house is moving about, and your world is suddenly changed. You cannot be sure what will happen next. You cannot be sure if you will be alive to see what happens next.
So it was at San Francisco that morning. People who had been asleep opened their eyes and found their beds moving about. Bookcases traveled slowly across floors. A strange noise could be heard on allsides. Then stones began to fall down into the rooms and into the streets outside. Walls and buildings started to come down. The cries or those who were hurt could be heard from near and far, and in some places the roads themselves opened like wide mouths. Street cars fell on their sides. Electrics wires came down and started fires.
What does a man do in these conditions? He wants to get outside,and as far away from high buildings as possible. People who live in the country and near open fields have a great advantage in a earthquake. They are free from the fear of falling walls and buildings. But those who live in towns and cities have no safe place waiting for them.
At the end of one minute the earthquake stopped, and the noise slowly grew less. Many of the people who had run into thestreets in their night clothes went back home to dress properly. They were not yet really afraid because earthquakes in San Francisco were fairly common. Most of them believed that this would be no worse than usual, and would soon stop; but the fires which had started were growing bigger.
Fires were not unknown in the city either; indeed its people seem to have suffered more than most others fromthis cause. Parts of the city had been burnt down six times before this. There was a bad fire in 1851; but the 1906 fire was the greatest and most terrible of all.
Fires were started in different ways. Broken electric wires caused a large number, but burning wood or coal in a fire place of a house could easily be thrown out when the earthquake moved the building. Then it was quite possible thatother wood, or paper or cloth, could be ser on fire. Thus the fire increased in size and reached out to other buildings. In San Francisco the bells of fire engines were soon ringing in the streets as the machines tried to reach burning houses. They ran into people who were trying to leave the fires, and this delayed them a great deal.
Although the city’s fireman were good fellows and knew their workwell, they did not put out many fires on that day. There was no water in the pipes. Most of San Francisco’s water had been brought to the city from the country through three great pipes; but all three had been broken by moving rocks and earth. Therefore, when the firemen tried to turn the water on, there was none.
It is not difficult to understand why the fires grew in size; but why did so...