Survivors roam the destruction on Market Street
The greatest destruction came from the fires the quake ignited. These ravaged the city for three days before burning themselves out. The maelstrom destroyed 490 city blocks, a total of 25,000 buildings, made over 250,000 homeless and killed between 450 and 700. Damage estimates topped $350,000,000.
Three eye witnesses described their experiences: "Of a sudden we had found ourselves staggering and reeling. It was as if the earth was slipping gently from under our feet. Then came the sickening swaying of the earth that threw us flat upon our faces. We struggled in the street. We could not get on our feet. Then it seemed as though my head were split with the roar that crashed into my ears. Big buildings were crumbling as one might crush a biscuit in one's hand. Ahead of me a great cornice crushed a man as if he were a maggot - a laborer in overalls on his way to the Union Iron Works with a dinner pail on his arm." (P. Barrett).
the fire caught the Windsor Hotel at Fifth and Market Streets there were three men on the roof, and it was impossible to get them down. Rather than see the crazed men fall in with the roof and be roasted alive the military officer directed his men to shoot them, which they did in the presence of 5,000 people." (Max Fast).
"The most terrible thing I saw was the futile struggle of a policeman and others to rescue a man who was pinned down in burning wreckage. The helpless man watched it in silence till the fire began burning his feet. Then he screamed and begged to be killed. The policeman took his name and address and shot him through the head." (Adolphus Busch).
Destruction in the city
Businessman Jerome B. Clark lived in Berkeley across the bay from San Francisco. He experienced a minor shake-up at his home in the early morning but this did not stop him from making his regular trip to the city. He describes what he saw as he disembarked from the ferry: