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American city of San Francisco, California suffered a huge
earthquake on April eighteenth, nineteen-oh-six.
More than three thousand people are known to have died. The true number
of dead will never be known. Two hundred fifty thousand people lost
their homes. Just a few hours after the terrible earthquake, a magazine
named Collier’s sent a telegraph message to the famous American writer
Jack London. They asked Mister London to go to San Francisco and report
about what he saw.
He arrived in the city only a few hours after the earthquake. The report
he wrote is called, “THE STORY OF AN EYEWITNESS.” Here is Doug Johnson
with the story.
Not in history has a modern city been so completely destroyed. San
Francisco is gone. Nothing remains of it but memories and a few homes
that were near the edge of the city. Its industrial area is gone. Its
business area is gone. Its social and living areas are gone. The
factories, great stores and newspaper buildings, the hotels and the huge
homes of the very rich, are all gone.
Within minutes of the earthquake the fires began. Within an hour a huge
tower of smoke caused by the fires could be seen a hundred miles away.
And for three days and nights this huge fire moved in the sky, reddening
the sun, darkening the day and filling the land with smoke.
There was no opposing the flames. There was no organization, no
communication. The earthquake had
all of the modern inventions of a twentieth century city. The streets
were broken and filled with pieces of fallen walls. The telephone and
telegraph systems were broken. And the great water pipes had
burst. All inventions
and safety plans of man had been destroyed by thirty seconds of movement
by the earth.
By Wednesday afternoon, only twelve hours after the earthquake, half the
heart of the city was gone. I watched the huge fire. It was very calm.
There was no wind. Yet from every side, wind was pouring in upon the
city. East, west, north and south, strong winds were blowing upon the
The heated air made a huge wind that pulled air into the fire, rising
into the atmosphere. Day and night the calm continued, and yet, near the
flames, the wind was often as strong as a storm.
There was no water to fight the fire. Fire fighters decided to use
explosives to destroy buildings in its path. They hoped this would
create a block to slow or stop the fire. Building after building was
destroyed. And still the great fires continued. Jack London told how
people tried to save some of their possessions from the fire.
Wednesday night the whole city crashed and
roared into ruin, yet
the city was quiet. There were no
was no shouting and
yelling. There was no disorder. I passed Wednesday night in the path
of the fire and in all those terrible hours I saw not one woman who
cried, not one man who was excited, not one person who caused trouble.
Throughout the night, tens of thousands of homeless ones
fled the fire. Some were wrapped
in blankets. Others carried bedding and dear household treasures.
Many of the poor left their homes with everything they could carry. Many
of their loads were extremely heavy. Throughout the night they dropped
items they could no longer hold. They left on the street clothing and
treasures they had carried for miles.
Many carried large boxes called trunks. They held onto these the longest.
It was a hard night and the hills of San Francisco are steep. And up
these hills, mile after mile, were the trunks dragged. Many a strong man
broke his heart that night.
Before the march of the fire were soldiers. Their job was to keep the
people moving away from the fire. The extremely tired people would arise
and struggle up the steep hills, pausing from weakness every five or ten
feet. Often, after reaching the top of a heart-breaking hill, they would
find the fire was moving at them from a different direction.
After working hour after hour through the night to save part of their
lives, thousands were forced to leave their trunks and flee.
At night I walked down through the very heart of
the city. I walked through mile after mile of beautiful buildings. Here
was no fire. All was in perfect order. The police patrolled the streets.
And yet it was all doomed, all of it. There was no water. The explosives
were almost used up. And two huge fires were coming toward this part of
the city from different directions.
Four hours later I walked through this same part of the city. Everything
still stood as before. And yet there was a change. A rain of
ashes was falling. The police
had been withdrawn. There were
no firemen, no fire engines, and no men using explosives. I stood at the
corner of Kearney and Market Streets in the very heart of San Francisco.
Nothing could be done. Nothing could be saved. The surrender was
It was impossible to guess where the fire would move next. In the early
evening I passed through Union Square. It was packed with refugees.
Thousands of them had gone to bed on the grass. Government tents had
been set up, food was being cooked and the refugees were
lining up for free
Late that night I passed Union Square again. Three sides of the Square
were in flames. The Square, with mountains of trunks, was deserted. The
troops, refugees and all had retreated.
The next morning I sat in front of a home on San Francisco’s famous Nob
Hill. With me sat Japanese, Italians, Chinese and Negroes. All about
were the huge homes of the very rich. To the east and south of us were
advancing two huge walls of fire.
I went inside one house and talked to the owner. He smiled and said the
earthquake had destroyed everything he owned. All he had left was his
beautiful house. He looked at me and said, “The fire will be here in
Outside the house the troops were falling back and forcing the refugees
ahead of them. From every side came the roaring of flames, the crashing
of walls and the sound of explosives.
Day was trying to dawn through the heavy smoke. A sickly light was
creeping over the face of things. When the sun broke through the smoke
it was blood-red and small. The smoke changed color from red to rose to
I walked past the broken dome of the City Hall building. This part of
the city was already a waste of smoking ruins. Here and there through
the smoke came a few men and women. It was like the meeting of a few
survivors the day after the world ended.
The huge fires continued to burn on. Nothing could stop them. Mister
London walked from place to place in the city, watching the huge fires
destroy the city. Nothing could be done to halt the firestorm.
In the end, the fire went out by itself because there was nothing left
to burn. Jack London finishes his story:
All day Thursday and all Thursday night, all day Friday and Friday
night, the flames raged on. Friday night saw the huge fires finally
conquered, but not before the fires had swept three-quarters of a mile
of docks and store houses at the waterfront.
San Francisco at the present time is like the center of a volcano.
Around this volcano are tens of thousands of refugees. All the
surrounding cities and towns are
jammed with the homeless ones. The refugees were carried free by the
railroads to any place they wished to go. It is said that more than one
hundred thousand people have left the peninsula on which San Francisco
The government has control of the situation, and thanks to the immediate
relief given by the whole United States, there is no lack of food. The
bankers and businessmen have already begun making the necessary plans to
rebuild this once beautiful city of San Francisco.
Escucha la pronunciación y lee el texto de nuevo.
·Eatrhquake: is a shaking of the ground caused by movement of the
earth's crust. ·Smashed: If you smash something or if it smashes, it breaks into
many pieces, for example when it is hit or dropped. ·Burst: If something bursts or if you burst it, it suddenly breaks
open or splits open and the air or other substance inside it comes out. ·Roared: If something roars, it makes a very loud noise. ·Crowds: A large group of people who have gathered together, for
example to watch or listen to something interesting, or to protest about
something. ·Yelling: If you yell, you shout loudly, usually because you are
excited, angry, or in pain. ·Fled: If you flee from something or someone, or flee a person or
thing, you escape from them. ·Ashes: The soft grey or black powder that is left after a
substance, especially tobacco, coal, or wood, has burned. ·Withdrawn: When groups of people such as troops withdraw or when
someone withdraws them, they leave the place where they are fighting or
where they are based and return nearer home. ·Lining up: If people line up or if you line them up, they move so
that they are standing in a line. ·Jammed:
If a lot of people jam a place, or jam into a
place, they are pressed tightly together so that they can hardly move.
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