Multitudes of persons besieged the telegraph offices, and the crush became so great that soldiers were stationed at the doors to keep them in line and allow as many as possible to find standing room at the counters. Messages were stacked yards high in the offices waiting to be sent throughout the world. Every boat from San Francisco brought hundreds of refugees, carrying luggage and bedding in large quantities. Many women were bareheaded and all showed fatigue as the result of sleeplessness and exposure to the chill air. Hundreds of these persons lined the streets of Oakland, waiting for some one to provide them with shelter, for which the utmost possible provision was quickly made. No one was allowed to go hungry in Oakland and few lacked shelter. At the Oakland First Presbyterian Church 1,800 were fed and 1,000 people were provided with sleeping accommodations. Pews were turned into beds. Cots stood in the aisles, in the gallery and in the Sunday school room. Every available inch of space was occupied by some substitute for a bed.
As the days wore on the number of refugees somewhat decreased. Although they still came in large numbers, many left on every train for different points. Requests for free transportation were investigated as closely as possible and all the deserving were sent away. Women and children and married men who wished to join their families in different parts of the State were given preference. The transportation bureau was on a street corner, where a man stood on a box and called the names of those entitled to passes.
Along the principal streets of Oakland there was a picturesque pilgrimage of former householders, who dragged or carried the meagre effects they had been able to save. The refugees who could not be cared for in Oakland made an exodus to Berkeley and other surrounding cities, where relief committees were actively at work. Utter despair was pictured on many faces, which showed the effects of sleepless days and nights, and the want of proper food.
Oakland was only one of the outside camps of refuge. At Berkeley over 6,000 refugees sought quarters, the big gymnasium of the State University being turned into a lodging house, while hundreds were provided with blankets to sleep in the open air under the University oaks. The students and professors of the University did all they could for their relief, and the Citizens’ Relief Committee supplied them with food.
The same benevolent sympathy was manifested at all the places near the ruined city which had escaped disaster, this aid materially reducing that needed within San Francisco itself.