The fire, the swaying and tottering walls, the frequent dynamite explosions, each followed by a crashing shower of stones and bricks, rendered the streets very unsafe for pedestrians, and all day long the flight of residents from the city went on, growing quickly to the dimensions of a panic. The ferryboats were crowded with those who wished to leave the city, and a constant stream of the homeless, carrying such articles as they had rescued from their homes, was kept up all day long, seeking the sand dunes, the parks and every place uninvaded by the flames. Before night Golden Gate Park and the unbuilt districts adjoining on the ocean side presented the appearance of a tented city, shelter of many kinds being improvised from bedding and blankets, and the people settling into such sparse comfort as these inadequate means provided.
A strange feature of the disaster was a rush to the banks by people who wished to get their money and flee from the seemingly doomed city. The fire front was yet distant from these institutions, which were destined to fall a prey to the flames, and all that morning lines of dishevelled and half-frantic men stood before the banks on Montgomery and Sansome Streets, braving in their thirst for money the smoke and falling embers and beating in wild anxiety upon the doors. Their effort was vain; the doors remained closed; finally the police drove these people away, and the banks went on with the work of saving their valuables. As for the people who wildly fled toward the ferries, in spite of the fact that ten blocks of fire, as the day went on, stopped all egress in that direction, it became necessary for them to be driven back by the police and the troops, and they were finally forced to seek safety in the sands. And thus, with incident manifold, went on that fatal Wednesday, the first day of the dread disaster.
It is important here to give the official record of the earthquake shocks, as given by the scientists. Professor George Davidson, of the University of California, says of them:
“The earthquake came from north to south, and the only description I am able to give of its effect is that it seemed like a terrier shaking a rat. I was in bed, but was awakened by the first shock. I began to count the seconds as I went towards the table where my watch was, being able through much practice closely to approximate the time in that manner. The shock came at 5.12 o’clock. The first sixty seconds were the most severe. From that time on it decreased gradually for about thirty seconds. There was then the slightest perceptible lull. Then the shock continued for sixty seconds longer, being slighter in degree in this minute than in any part of the preceding minute and a half. There were two slight shocks afterwards which I did not time. At 8.14 o’clock I recorded a shock of five seconds’ duration, and one at 4.15 of two seconds. There were slight shocks which I did not record at 5.17 and at 5.27. At 6.50 P. M. there was a sharp shock of several seconds.”