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November 5, 2008 > History: When the Shaking Stops

History: When the Shaking Stops

By the Hayward Area Historical Society

On April 19, 1906, the day after a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake on the San Andreas Fault rocked the entire Bay Area, a handwritten letter arrived at the Presidio in San Francisco. It was addressed to General Fredrick Funston, the senior Army officer at the Presidio at the time who took charge of rescue and fire operations in the City. A wagon loaded with food accompanied the letter from the Hayward Relief Committee. The letter signed by Dr. John Gamble, then principal of Hayward Union High School, offered the following:

All food carried by this team is cooked and should judge sufficient for 2000 people, one meal. We trust some will reach facilities where it will do most good, Hayward Relief Committee.

The citizens of Hayward had not gotten off easy during the earthquake on the morning of April 18th. Homes and business were damaged throughout the city but no deaths or major injuries were reported. The destruction was minor compared to the devastation wrought by the fires that swept through the streets of San Francisco. Hayward's citizens could see the smoke billowing from the burning city and they heard reports of events in the City. The Hayward Relief Committee coordinated the community's efforts to aid residents of San Francisco.

While the population of Hayward was not large, only about 2,000 people, it had a few things to offer their big city friends. The community had people willing to help, several large buildings undamaged by the quake that were used for community social functions, and food. Eggs, bread, fruit, vegetables, and meat from the area's farms and ranches made up that wagon load of food sent with Gamble's letter. The Native Son's Hall, located on the corner of C and Main Street, with its large ballroom, gymnasium, locker rooms, and kitchen facilities became the perfect location for a temporary shelter. The Dania Hall with its ballroom facilities located on Foothill Boulevard became a temporary hospital for the injured. An estimated 1,000 refugees made their way across the Bay to take the assistance Hayward citizens offered.

While this letter might seem an interesting historical footnote, it actually is a good way to remind us all about charity, community, and preparedness during natural disasters. This month marks the 140th anniversary of the 1868 Hayward earthquake. That earthquake, at an estimated 6.8 magnitude, caused massive damage to buildings and deaths throughout the Bay region and especially in Hayward. The Hayward fault, which runs through most of the East Bay, has not erupted since that time. Scientists studying the fault determined that it tends to have a major episode about once every 140 years. We're about due for another major shake. In 1868 only a few thousand people lived and worked in the communities of the East Bay. There are millions living in the same area today. This makes the Hayward fault the most dangerous fault in the country.

Preparing for devastating earthquakes was something no one thought of in 1868 or in 1906. Survivors of both quakes had to rely on the kindness of others to help them make it through. Our buildings are built better in this day and age than at the time of these two quakes so we hope the level of destruction is not nearly as severe. But there is no guarantee. We will no doubt still need to rely on each other when the Big One hits on the Hayward fault. The more we are prepared for the event, the better we will be able to help ourselves and our neighbors.

For more information on the 1868 earthquake and how to be better prepared, please check out http://earthquake.usgs.gov/regional/nca/1868/.

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