LEST WE FORGET
Today marks the one year anniversary of the Haitian earthquake, responsible for so much death and destruction in that island nation’s capital. It is obvious from the news reports that it will require years before relief and reconstruction efforts make considerable headway. In commemorating this sad occasion, I thought that I would share with my readers some images of devastating quakes from around the globe during the period covered by The Wolfsonian-FIU museum.
On April 18, 1906, the city of San Francisco was devastated by an earthquake and the resulting fire that took the lives of 3,000 persons. Fearing economic repercussions and the loss of land values, city officials underestimated the damages in the immediate aftermath.
Responding to fears of rioting and looting among evacuees, the mayor authorized police and federal troops to “kill any and all persons found engaged in Looting or in the Commission of Any Other Crime.” Such orders resulted in the shooting deaths of 500 persons—many of whom were merely trying to rescue their own possessions in advance of the spreading fire. Within days of news of the disaster, the world responded generously with relief efforts topping $5,000,000.
At 5:21 am on December 28, 1908, Sicilians were shaken awake by an earthquake centered on the city of Messina. The quake reduced to rubble more than 90% of the structures in the city and claimed the lives of 70,000 residents caught sleeping in houses with heavy roofs and flimsy foundations. The quake also triggered a tsunami that struck the nearby coasts and claimed the lives of another 30,000 to 130,000 more victims.
In the wake of the quake, British, French, Russian, and American naval ships were dispatched to Messina to provide assistance. The Red Cross and other international relief organizations also pitched in, but the rebuilding of the city took many years, and progress was hampered by the outbreak of the First World War.
The Japanese are no strangers to earthquakes and the Wolfsonian-FIU library has materials documenting the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923 which devastated Tokyo and Yokohama and caused considerable damage throughout the Kantō region. Many of the 100,000 to 140,000 casualties fell to the fire storms that swept the city in the wake of the earthquake.
In the aftermath of the quake, ethnic tensions and vigilante violence resulted in the massacre of another 2,000 to 6,600 Korean and Chinese minorities in the region until the army finally intervened.
These images serve to remind us that no one is immune from natural disasters, that these disasters can bring out both the best and the worst in human nature, and that we must all pull together in the wake of such events to help the survivors over the long road to recovery.