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Kevin Hu. April 18, 2001. The Great San Francisco Earthquake.

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april 18 2001

Kevin Hu

April 18, 2001

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The Great San Francisco Earthquake

At 5:13 a.m., an earthquake estimated at close to 8.0 on the Richter scale strikes San Francisco, California, killing hundreds of people as it topples numerous buildings. The quake was caused by a slip of the San Andreas Fault over a segment about 275 miles long, and shock waves could be felt from southern Oregon down to Los Angeles.

San Francisco's brick buildings and wooden Victorian structures were especially devastated. Fires immediately broke out and--because broken water mains prevented firefighters from stopping them--firestorms soon developed citywide. At 7 a.m., U.S. Army troops from Fort Mason reported to the Hall of Justice, and San Francisco Mayor E.E. Schmitz called for the enforcement of a dusk-to-dawn curfew and authorized soldiers to shoot-to-kill anyone found looting. Meanwhile, in the face of significant aftershocks, firefighters and U.S. troops fought desperately to control the ongoing fire, often dynamiting whole city blocks to create firewalls. On April 20, 20,000 refugees trapped by the massive fire were evacuated from the foot of Van Ness Avenue onto the USS Chicago.

By April 23, most fires were extinguished, and authorities commenced the task of rebuilding the devastated metropolis. It was estimated that some 3,000 people died as a result of the Great San Francisco Earthquake and the devastating fires it inflicted upon the city. Almost 30,000 buildings were destroyed, including most of the city's homes and nearly all the central business district.

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Missouri Tornadoes

Missouri is hit by a string of deadly tornadoes on this day in 1880. Statewide, 151 people were killed by the twisters, including 99 in the town of Marshfield.

The first tornado struck at about 4:30 p.m. in Springfield, Missouri, where seven people lost their lives. It then headed northeast toward the town of Marshfield, which had a population of 1,100. Marshfield suffered terrible losses: nearly every building in the town was either destroyed or seriously damaged and almost one of every 10 residents was killed. Given the damage, it is estimated that the tornado had winds of over 200 miles per hour.

Tornadoes are generally either funnel-shaped or look like a dark smoky cloud reaching down to the ground. They have been known to last from under a minute to as long as an hour. They always spin counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere.

Although tornadoes can occur anywhere in the world, they are most common in North America. One of the first recorded deaths by twister was that of a pilgrim in Massachusetts, who was killed by one in 1680. However, there were very few tornadoes mentioned in early American historical accounts, probably because they usually occur inland from the Atlantic coast, away from most early settlements.

The first official public tornado warnings were not made until the Civil War. John Park Finley of the Army Signal Corps was one of the first people to systematically study tornadoes. His work led to the first competent predictions of impending twisters in the 1880s. Generally, though, warnings were not regularly issued because authorities feared public panic.

The deadliest tornado on record in North America was a 1925 twister that took nearly 700 lives.