Have you heard? The great San Francisco earthquake hit at 5:12 a.m. on Wednesday, April 18, 1906, and the past several weeks have seen the city “celebrate” the centennial anniversary with a mixture of pomp, somber reflection, and promises of increased preparedness. One of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history, the magnitude 7.8 quake erupted along the San Andreas fault, and was felt in Oregon, Los Angeles, and Nevada. The quake killed more than 3,000 people, rendered three-quarters of the population homeless, and did about $450 million in damage. The city was never the same again; although plans to relocate Chinatown to a peripheral section of the city didn't materialize, 80 percent of San Francisco had to be rebuilt. As the city marks the worst catastrophe in its history, we ask the essential question: Are you an apologist for the centennial celebration of the 1906 earthquake? Take our quiz and find out!
1) To mark the centennial, the city staged a televised ceremony and parade at Lotta's Fountain, a central meeting place for those displaced by the '06 quake, and a predawn crowd of more than 10,000 gathered there this year to listen to stories, hear speeches, and sing songs — although, notably, Tony Bennett could not attend to perform “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” Do you think the spectacle was a fitting tribute to the tragedy?
A) Wait a minute … what else did Tony Bennett have going on?
B) It was great, especially when Mayor Newsom went down on one knee to interview survivors. Who'da thunk he'd be in the mood to propose at a time like that?
C) I agree with Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin: The city's entire “elected family” should have been invited onstage. That way, if a disastrous, ironic earthquake struck at that very moment, they'd all be under a pile of rubble.
2) During the ceremony, city officials proclaimed that the city was much better equipped today to deal with a massive earthquake. Annemarie Conroy, the city's director of emergency services, even told the crowd: “Go out and have some fun. The bars open at 6. Raise a toast to the incredible city of San Francisco.” What's your response?
A) Hmm … should we be concerned that the city's director of emergency services knows that the bars open at 6?
B) Nah, I guess we should be more worried about the fact that she has no previous disaster management experience and is attending the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey for a master's degree.
C) Oh, wait, never mind … the master's is in “Homeland Security.”
3) The 1906 quake, which lasted anywhere from 45 seconds to a minute, was one of the first natural disasters to be documented by photography and motion picture footage. How do you think history has treated the story of the earthquake?
A) I dunno … But it was 1906, so at least they didn't have a bunch of morons calling into news stations about whether it was a “rolling motion” or a “sudden jolt.”
B) Well, I know the World Series was stopped for a while …
C) And without photography, we would never have the obligatory front-page photograph of a liquor store's knocked-over wine bottles after a 3.4 in Fremont … and really, what else is journalism good for?
4) The disaster had many far-reaching consequences beyond San Francisco: Trade, industry, and population growth moved south to Los Angeles. Do you think the reverberations of the quake can still be felt to this day?
A) No, that rumble was just a MUNI bus colliding with a parked car, dear. Nothing to worry about.
B) Hell, yes. You think I store all of these water bottles, canned fruit, and first-aid kits for my health?!? (Bonus point for muttering to yourself, “I really do need to start storing those things …”)
C) How typical of Los Angeles: Taking advantage of a crippled San Francisco to exploit its own petty, superficial qualities. At least we have Pixar.
5) The 100th-anniversary Earthquake Conference convened at the Moscone Center last week, where 2,500 earth scientists gathered to debate new findings from their work. One report said that three significant, newfound faults have been identified between Fort Bragg and Westport in Mendocino County, where one, the Pacific Star fault, runs directly beneath the Pacific Star Winery. What do you think of the conference's news?
A) I don't know much, but when a fault line is named after your winery, it's probably time to find another line of work.
B) Whew! I'm so glad I decided not to move to Mendocino. What's that you say? The faults running below San Francisco are just as dangerous? OK, well, fine … I'm still glad I decided not to move to Mendocino.
C) Honestly, I'm disgusted. This is a time to be celebrating earthquakes, not studying them.
6) The United States Geological Survey also marked the occasion, releasing new Bay Area maps that trace the faults of major earthquakes from the past 2 million years. Visitors to the USGS Web site can see the historic quakes of 1868, 1906, and 1989, and also view areas that are most likely to be hit in the future. “By releasing these maps, we're trying to wake people up,” said Russ Graymer, the lead geologist on the project. Is the information likely to make you more aware of potential earthquakes?
A) Wake me up? The only thing that gets me outta bed in the morning is a 6.3.
B) No, but it's likely to make me more aware that we have no friggin' idea when the next one is coming.
C) “Look, honey, our house is in prime earthquake territory … whose fault is that? Ha, ha! Get it?” (Bonus point if she/he gets it.)
7) Given what we now know about the 1906 earthquake and modern construction methods, how well do you think S.F. has applied the lessons of the great earthquake?
A) From a marketing standpoint? Brilliantly. Remind me to leave town next summer for the Summer of Love 30-year anniversary.
B) We're totally prepared. If the Big One hits, we'll all meet afterward at Lotta's Fountain.
C) That depends … how far along was the Bay Bridge retrofit project in 1906? Wait, lemme guess: About 10 years from being finished, right?
How to score:
Score zero points for every “A” answer, one point for every “B,” and two points for every “C.”
0-6 points: Yes, the marriage of nostalgic city marketing and legitimate remembrance of tragedy is always awkward.
That's why I'm glad our mayor is named Oprah.
7-10 points: Can you believe how crazy it would have been to move Chinatown to the outskirts of San Francisco? All that tourist money up in smoke …
11-14 points: Congratulations! You're a true apologist for the centennial celebration of the 1906 earthquake. See you in '09 for the Loma Prieta party!