Food, water and shelter were not the only urgent needs. At first there was absolutely no sanitary provision, and the danger of an epidemic was great. This was a peril which the Board of Health addressed itself vigorously to meet, and steps for improving the sanitary conditions were hastily taken. Quick provision for sheltering the unfortunates was also made. Eight temporary structures, 150 feet in length by 28 feet wide and 13 feet high, were erected in Golden Gate Park, and in these sheds thousands found reasonably comfortable quarters. This was but a beginning. More of these buildings were rapidly erected, and by their aid the question of shelter was in part solved. The buildings were divided into compartments large enough to house a family, each compartment having an entrance from the outside. This work was done under the control of the engineering department of the United States army, which had taken steps to obtain a full supply of lumber and had put 135 carpenters to work. Those of the refugees who were without tents were the first to be provided for in these temporary buildings.
To those who made an inspection of the situation a few days after the earthquake, the hills and beaches of San Francisco looked like an immense tented city. For miles through the park and along the beaches from Ingleside to the sea wall at North Beach the homeless were camped in tents—makeshifts rigged up from a few sticks of wood and a blanket or sheet. Some few of the more fortunate secured vehicles on which they loaded regulation tents and were, therefore, more comfortably housed than the great majority. Golden Gate Park and the Panhandle looked like one vast campaign ground. It is said that fully 100,000 persons, rich and poor alike, sought refuge in Golden Gate Park alone, and 200,000 more homeless ones located at the other places of refuge.
At the Presidio military reservation, where probably 50,000 persons were camped, affairs were conducted with military precision. Water was plentiful and rations were dealt out all day long. The refugees stood patiently in line and there was not a murmur. This characteristic was observable all over the city. The people were brave and patient, and the wonderful order preserved by them proved of great assistance. In Golden Gate Park a huge supply station had been established and provisions were dealt out.
Six hundred men from the Ocean Shore Railway arrived on Saturday night with wagons and implements to work on the sewer system. Inspectors were kept going from house to house, examining chimneys and issuing permits to build fires. In fact, activity manifested itself in all quarters in the attempt to bring order out of confusion, and in an astonishingly short time the tented city was converted from a scene of wretched disorder into one of order and system.