Political Animal


April 18, 2013 1:03 PM Devastation

By Ed Kilgore

Today marks the 107th anniversary of the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, which along with the ensuing fires eventually killed over 3,000 people and destroyed 30,000 buildings, including most of the city’s central business district.

At a time when we are still recovering from one nightmarish incident in Boston and beginning to absorb another in East Texas, it’s encouraging to remember how resolutely the people of a city brought to its knees by an unimaginable disaster responded and recovered. But’s it’s also important to remember how close we all remain, even in this post-modern age, to natural and unnatural violence that puts our routine worries and squabbles into a more appropriate perspective.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Anonymous on April 18, 2013 1:22 PM:

    West isn't East Texas - it's Central Texas.

  • Curmudgeon on April 18, 2013 1:42 PM:

    As a side note, the actual earthquake itself didn't cause as much damage as the devastating fires that occurred afterwards. As well as the massive dynamiting by the army in an attempt to prevent the blaze from spreading even further.

    All in all it just wasn't a very good day, but the people did rise up and rebuild with a magnificent spirit.

  • gograff on April 18, 2013 2:12 PM:

    So here we have another mass death toll. Corporations, capitalism, and catastrophe. When was the last time a solar panel or a wind turbine exploded, spreading poisonous gas and death? Industrial agriculture and it's associated industries that rely on polluting, non-sustainable, petroleum-based, explosive products. Gee, what could possibly go worng? Isn't it time we began to shift our paradigm away from capitalism and towards sustainability, social and environmental responsibility, and corporate accountability?

  • jonh on April 18, 2013 3:40 PM:

    I wonder about the role absolute property rights played in the West devastation. Did the surrounding community know the risks of building where they did? Did they have the chance to require anything of the corporation running the operation? I imagine the company was aware of the blast radius of their equipment. Did they inform the stakeholders? Were they legally required to?

    I don't have the answers, but my guess is no, no, no, and no. I suppose this is just the price one pays for the privilege of liberty and freedom.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on April 18, 2013 4:39 PM:


    You're probably right. Back in the aughts there was an explosion at my hometown's pharmaceutical plant. A few people were killed, more injured, a nearby school had its windows blown out, and from where I sat in my high school nearly 10 miles away, we even felt the concussion of the blast. Because there was a giant plume of potentially hazmat-tainted smoke wafting across the region, the schools collectively decided not to release the students (which was pretty annoying considering the blast went off during final period).

    Well after the dust had settled, investigators learned that the plant had ratcheted up violations and fines. They determined that the blast was from "combustible dust cloud"--dust that the company knew was highly flammable but took no precautions to clean or contain.

    Gross negligence aside, guess who the towns folk sided with? There were letters to the editor in the local newspaper of business owners threatening to not serve anybody who tried to sue the plant!!!! And the owner of an unused business park just donated the space to the plant, which is parked 100 yards from the primary highway that runs into town. They even got six figures to rebuild from the county commission!

    Why all this back-bending? Because unfortunately the plant was a major employer in the city. And if this town in Texas is like mine, they'll be back in bed with the company by the end of next week if not sooner.


  • gyrfalcon on April 19, 2013 1:02 AM:

    "itís encouraging to remember how resolutely the people of a city brought to its knees by an unimaginable disaster responded and recovered"

    True. It's also important to remember that this is true not only all over America, but basically everywhere in the world with few exceptions. Human beings are resilient and determined creatures.