The last disaster filled the surviving citizens with the impulse of flight. The more fortunate of them ran in the direction of the open country, and succeeded in saving their lives; but a great multitude rushed down to the harbor, thinking to escape by sea. Here, however, they were met by a new and unexpected peril. The tide, after first retreating for a little, came rolling in with an immense wave, about fifty feet in height, carrying with it ships, barges and boats, and dashing them in dire confusion upon the crowded shore. Overwhelmed by this huge wave, great numbers were, on its retreat, swept into the seething waters and drowned. A vast throng took refuge on a fine new marble quay, but recently completed, which had cost much labor and expense. This the sea-wave had spared, sweeping harmless by. But, alas! it was only for a moment. The vast structure itself, with the whole of its living burden, sank instantaneously into an awful chasm which opened underneath. The mole and all who were on it, the boats and barges moored to its sides, all of them filled with people, were in a moment ingulfed. Not a single corpse, not a shred of raiment, not a plank nor a splinter floated to the surface, and a hundred fathoms of water covered the spot. To the first great sea-wave several others succeeded, and the bay continued for a long time in a state of tumultuous agitation.
About two hours after the first overthrow of the buildings, a new element of destruction came into play. The fires in the ruined houses kindled the timbers, and a mighty conflagration, urged by a violent wind, soon raged among the ruins, consuming everything combustible, and completing the wreck of the city. This fire, which lasted four days, was not altogether a misfortune. It consumed the thousands of corpses which would otherwise have tainted the air, adding pestilence to the other misfortunes of the survivors. Yet they were threatened with an enemy not less appalling, for famine stared them in the face. Almost everything eatable within the precincts of the city had been consumed. A set of wretches, morever, who had escaped from the ruins of the prisons, prowled among the rubbish of the houses in search of plunder, so that whatever remained in the shape of provisions fell into their hands and was speedily devoured. They also broke into the houses that remained standing, and rifled them of their contents. It is said that many of those who had been only injured by the ruins, and might have escaped by being extricated, were ruthlessly murdered by those merciless villains.
The total loss of life by this terrible catastrophe is estimated at 60,000 persons, of whom about 40,000 perished at once, and the remainder died afterwards of the injuries and privations they sustained. Twelve hundred were buried in the ruins of the general hospital, eight hundred in those of the civil prison, and several thousands in those of the convents. The loss of property amounted to many millions sterling.