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The Great San Francisco Earthquake
Film Description

A woman walks past a damaged home on Howard Street On April 18, 1906, at 5:12 a.m., an earthquake hit San Francisco with a force of approximately 12,000 times the power of the atom bomb that would be dropped on Hiroshima some 40 years later. The city's tenement areas and its posh neighborhoods alike were destroyed. Buildings collapsed, fences curved, streets buckled, steel rails bent, and reservoirs drained. The shock snapped gas mains, damaged chimneys, and toppled gas lamps and lanterns. Fifty blazes started simultaneously, creating a huge firestorm that burned for three days, leveling four-and-a-half square miles of what had been one of the most vibrant cities in the country.

American Experience presents The Great San Francisco Earthquake, a one-hour film featuring hundreds of snapshots, moving pictures, diary accounts, and recollections from a dozen elderly survivors, produced and directed by Tom Weidlinger (The Great War 1918, The West of the Imagination). Academy Award-winning actor F. Murray Abraham narrates.

After the disaster, more than 225,000 newly homeless San Franciscans fled East by train. But 200,000 residents, together with many newcomers who arrived from all over the country, rebuilt the city -- a feat that was accomplished in just three years. A wellspring of community pride surfaced. Publisher William Randolph Hearst wrote, "Everything was destroyed but the indomitable American pluck."

"As the nation faces tough decisions about New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, it's inspiring to remember the story of a city that did rise from the ashes," says American Experience executive producer Mark Samels. "San Francisco reminds us of the strength and resilience of the human spirit."

Film Credits

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The Great San Francisco Earthquake American Experience

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