The official death toll was 478. However, the city authorities were keen to cover up many deaths in order not to spoil the boomig housing trade in San Francisco. It is possible that over 5500 deaths were covered up, and more than likely that the death toll was over 3000. At 5:12 AM, the city of San Francisco was shaken by a massive quake, registering about 7.7 on the Richter Scale. This quake was felt from Oregon to central Nevada. It was one of the strongest in the history of San Francisco. Contrary to the reports of the time, San Francisco Mayor Eugene Schmitz and General Frederick Funston did not declare Martial Law. Police were, however, ordered to fire on all looters during the weeks after the earthquake. The earthquake was caused by the two tectonic plates, the North American plate and the Pacific plate grinding into each other. This caused massive vibrations, centred at the so called 'epicentre' of the earthquake, on the San Andreas Fault line, extremely close to the city. The economy of San Francisco, previously one of the strongest in the world, was thrown into jeopardy.
Fires raged unchecked across the city, spurred on by the leaking gas mains. Refugees, amongst them some of the towns richest residents began to set up camp fires, many of which have got out of control. Arson also became a serious problem as looters raided and burnt many of the buildings in the city. Fire-fighters could not get enough water to control the blaze in the early stages.