The magnitude of the calamity became fully apparent after the sun had risen and began to shine warmly and brightly from the east over the ruined city. Old Sol, who had risen and looked down upon this city for thousands of times, had never before seen such a spectacle as that of this fateful morning. Where once rose noble buildings were now to be seen cracked and tottering walls, fallen chimneys, here and there fallen heaps of brick and mortar, and out of and above all the red light of the mounting flames. From the middle of the city’s greatest thoroughfare ruin, only ruin, was to be seen on all sides. To the south, in hundreds of blocks, hardly a building had escaped unscathed. The cracked walls of the new Post Office showed the rending power of the earthquake. A part of the splendid and costly City Hall collapsed, the roof falling to the courtyard and the smaller towers tumbling down. Some of the wharves, laden with goods of every sort, slid into the bay. With them went thousands of tons of coal. On the harbor front the earth sank from six to eight inches, and great cracks opened in the streets.
San Francisco’s famous Chinatown, the greatest settlement of the Celestials on this continent, went down like a house of cards. When the earthquake had passed this den of squalor and infamy was no more. The Chinese theatres and joss-houses tumbled into ruins, rookery after rookery collapsed, and hundreds of their inhabitants were buried alive. Panic reigned supreme among the fugitives, who filled the streets in frightened multitudes, dragging from the wreck whatever they could save of their treasured possessions. Much the same was the case with the Japanese quarter, which fire quickly invaded, the people fleeing in terror, carrying on their backs what few of their household effects they were able to rescue.
As for the people of Chinatown, however, no one knows or will ever know the extent of the dread fate that overcame them, for no one knows the secrets of that dark abode of infamy and crime, whose inhabitants burrowed underground like so many ants; and hid their secrets deep in the earth.
W. W. Overton, of Los Angeles, thus describes the Chinatown dens and the revelations made by the earthquake and the flames:
“Strange is the scene where San Francisco’s Chinatown stood. No heap of smoking ruins marks the site of the wooden warrens where the Orientals dwelt in thousands. Only a cavern remains, pitted with deep holes and lined with dark passageways, from whose depths come smoke wreaths. White men never knew the depth of Chinatown’s underground city. Many had gone beneath the street level two and three stories, but now that the place had been unmasked, men may see where its inner secrets lay. In places one can see passages a hundred feet deep.