Our 10 Greatest Natural Disasters

There is something uniquely chilling about a natural disaster, the uncontrolled, unpreventable fury of normally benign elements: a blue sky now black exploding in water and electricity; the air around us suddenly quick, weaponized; a resort lake bewitched into a ferocious wall of water; the solidity of the very ground belied. In these moments nature proves its dominance, as if to remind us that there are some things in its arsenal before which we will always be powerless.

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How The Hurricane Got Its Name

It’s more than just whimsy

Our hurricane-naming system evolved much the same way our baby-naming system did. Just as it’s easier to say “Jane Q. Smith” than to reel off a list of her identifying characteristics, so forecasters in the nineteenth century grew tired of referring to every big storm by its longitude, latitude, and date of origin. But that was the official protocol until the early 1950s, and more than once it led to dangerous mix-ups.Read more »

Splendid Survivors

How to get a drink or a meal or a night’s sleep before April 18, 1906

Finding traces of pre-earthquake San Francisco is a bit like a treasure hunt, a fascinating but not impossible challenge. “The Big Quake” and fire may have leveled three-quarters of the city, but incredibly, some landmarks were salvaged and restored and have kept their turn-of-the-century flavor. Few of the following locations were left completely (or even mostly) intact after the earthquake and fires, but with a little imagination, one can be transported back to the Barbary Coast (or belle époque, depending on one’s perspective), if only for a moment.Read more »

San Francisco Then And Now

On the 100th anniversary of the 1906 calamity, a student of earthquakes seeks its traces in the city he loves most.

The scale of the disaster is hard to comprehend. A government report listed 28,188 buildings destroyed. The official number of dead or missing was 674, though a reassessment years later put it closer to 3,000. People had fled in so many directions that it was impossible to get a reasonable estimate of the number of homeless, but most historians agree it was somewhere between 225,000 and 300,000.Read more »

Earthquake

An all-but-forgotten San Francisco photographer has left us a grand and terrible record of the destruction and rebirth of an American city

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The Great Earthquake

When The Great Earthquake struck New England, learned men blamed everything from God’s wrath to an overabundance of lightning rods in Boston. Two hundred and twenty-five years later, geologists are at last discovering the true causes.

Shortly before dawn the five-inch pine spindle of the Faneuil Hall wind vane snapped, dislodging the thirty-pound gilded cricket that spun ten feet above Boston’s marketplace roof. Early risers first heard the baying of dogs, then the roar. Beneath the autumn moon, fifteen hundred chimneys swiveled and spewed bricks; the gable ends of brick houses that had survived the fire of 1747 collapsed onto cobblestone.Read more »

“… I Will Stamp On The Ground With My Foot And Shake Down Every House …”

THUS SPAKE THE GREAT INDIAN CHIEF TECUMSEH, PREDICTING— SOME BELIEVED—THE SERIES OF VIOLENT EARTHQUAKES THAT STRUCK THE MIDWEST IN THE WINTER OF 1811–12

The town of New Madrid in southeastern Missouri looks out over a treacherous stretch of the Mississippi River, studded with bars and laced with stumpy shores—a graveyard of rivercraft, and haunted. Some of the ghosts are dead dreams. Read more »