SAN FRANCISCO — Survivors of San Francisco’s devastating 1906 earthquake gathered at a historic fountain Wednesday morning for a wreath-laying ceremony marking the 95th anniversary of the temblor that leveled much of the city.
In 1906, Lotta’s Fountain served as a meeting point for survivors looking for loved ones. This year, more than a dozen survivors met at there as sirens blared at 5:12 a.m., the exact time of the quake.
Most of the survivors were toddlers during the 7.8-magnitude quake that killed about 700 people and triggered a fire that all but destroyed the city. Many remember the commotion surrounding the quake, but said they were too excited to be scared.
Flora Allen, 98, was almost 4 years old when she was woken up by the shaking.
“I was screaming,” she said. “I remember my mom dressing us up all nice and warm and putting us in the middle of the street, not having any drinking water, my brothers showing us at night how red the sky was because the city was burning.”
Allen, who has lived in Mexico and throughout Latin America, now lives in Alameda and said the earthquake taught her not to worry.
“Something’s going to happen no matter where you go,” she said.
Bessie Shum was two when the earthquake happened. She remembers her father rushing in and telling the family there was no time to pack.
He had to carry her mother out because, as part of Chinese tradition, her mother’s feet were bound and she could not walk.
Others remembered what their parents told them about the quake and its aftermath. Marie Sagues, who was 2 days old at the time, said her parents and others put stoves out in the street because they couldn’t cook in the house.
The earthquake lasted at least 45 seconds, about twice as long as is typical, and the movement traveled along an almost 300-mile long stretch of the San Andreas fault.
Many survivors have said they heard a low rumbling that grew louder for a few seconds before the ground began to shake, said Jack Boatwright, a geophysicist for the United States Geological Survey.
The ground shook violently back and forth and the land along parts of the fault moved as much as 26 feet, Boatwright said. Some areas sank as much as 5 feet, he said.
The quake was probably centered somewhere off the coast of San Francisco, not under the city.
The San Andreas fault has the potential to experience an earthquake up to 50 percent stronger than the one in 1906, Boatwright said. But there’s only a 5 percent chance that the region will experience a quake the size of the 1906 one over the next 30 years, Boatwright said.
“That is very small,” he said.
The survivors at Wednesday’s commemoration were treated to breakfast at the Westin St. Francis hotel, one of the few buildings that survived the temblor and is standing today. In the hotel’s lobby, photographs of the city after the quake show piles of rubble covering streets, with only a few buildings standing.