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There is Practically Nothing Left


At 5:13 on April 18th, 1906, San Francisco experienced a violent earthquake. The rumbling that woke the city lasted about a minute. Buildings toppled. Gas and water lines broke. But the quake was just the beginning. Fires broke out and burned for three days as firefighters couldn’t get water from the broken hydrants. When it was over, five hundred blocks of the city lay in ruins. The San Francisco earthquake was one of the most devastating natural disasters in American history.

On this date in 1906, Mrs. A. M Powell of Devils Lake received a welcome telegram from her younger brother Charles. Charles was a doctor in San Francisco. He and his wife had planned a move to Seattle, but Mrs. Powell had no idea whether they made their escape before the quake.

Charles described how he and Kate had planned to leave San Francisco the day before and even had their train tickets. But business kept them in the city another day … a day they would never forget. He wrote, “Kate and I ran into the middle of the street in our nightclothes, at the start of the shaking.” In the confusion, the two of them were separated. Charles was frantic to find his wife among the collapsing buildings and the fires. They were apart for four hours before accidentally finding each other two miles from where they were separated. Kate had a loaf of bread in her bag. It was the first thing they had eaten all day.

Charles and Kate finally caught a train for Seattle at midnight. But a derailed train blocked the way. They had to wait for the tracks to be cleared. Regardless of their trials, Charles assured his sister that he and Kate were well.

Concern for the earthquake victims was widespread. Many churches planned benefits. The senior class of the Devils Lake High School donated the proceeds from the senior play. And at least one North Dakotan was relieved to find her brother and sister-in-law safe.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Devils Lake Inter-Ocean. “An Eyewitness Narrates Scenes.” “Senior Class Benefit for Frisco Sufferers.” 27 April, 1906.

National Archives and Records Administration. “The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and Fire.” "https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/sf-earthquake-and-fire/" https://www.archives.gov/exhibits/sf-earthquake-and-fire/ Accessed 25 March, 2017.