Wednesday, August 31, 2005

San Francisco 1906

Perhaps the closest thing to Hurricane Katrina in American history may actually be the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. While both were caused by very different natural disasters, there are a number of similarities:
  • Large, vibrant metropolitan areas are the focus of both disasters, although severe damage from both are/were spread over large areas.
  • Both disasters were a product of people building major metropolitan areas in areas highly suceptible to disaster, in part due to their man made environment. In San Francisco, it was partly due to buildings built on loose fill. In New Orleans, it is due to building a city below sea level, protected only by levees and pumps.
  • While the initial disasters were bad, it was the aftermath that made them the disasters they are. In San Francisco, it was an uncontrollable fire. In New Orleans, it is flooding that came after the storm.
  • The severity of the disasters brought out the worst in people in both places. Both experienced looting and lawlessness. Both were placed under martial law. In San Francisco, a shoot to kill order was made against looting. Hopefully things will not got to that extent in New Orleans.
  • The human disaster in both is mind numbing. In both cities, large portions of the population will be left with little more than the shirts on their backs until rebuilding can begin.
  • Both cities will have seen re-engineering of the city to make it safer against future disasters. San Francisco came back bigger and stronger than ever. I believe that when all is said and done, New Orleans will as well. Both cities will forever be extremely vulnerable to these types of disasters, despite the best efforts of man to mitigate those risks.
For more information on the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, visit Wikipedia and the Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco.

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