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The San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906 erupted during a period of economic success for the West. As a hub of a new economy, after the earthquake struck, businessmen looked to suppress the damage as to not to dissuade investors in San Francisco’s economy. Ted Steinberg makes the argument that businessmen alike looked to pawn the disaster on the fire that followed the earthquake. If the earthquake was seen as the sole cause for the destruction, people would move out and stay out of the city. The battle over suppressing the event as Sherwood Callaway points out in his discussion of preserving San Francisco’s reputation as a center for economic activity. “And at nothing did they work harder than shaping the way the calamity would be understood” (105), the way disaster was interpreted was critical for big businessmen during the turn of the century.
However, in the discussion on economic growth in the wake of disaster, Steinberg claims that even though there was financial success and prosperity, because the disaster was interpreted as a cause of fire and not an earthquake the laws and regulations were unchanged which ultimately hurt the city of San Francisco. As seen in later earthquakes that hit the city, with the unregulated buildings that were constructed only created more devastation in isolated earthquakes. In the later part of his argument, Steinberg addresses an important issue that is essential to the discussion of relief/recovery efforts in the wake of earthquakes. The most recent idea of retrofitting San Francisco and how that effects the city. Within the retrofitting debate, Steinberg questions the role of class structure in society. He does so by addressing Kathleen Harrington (president of property-owners’ group) who argues balancing costs in lieu of safety measures. Steinberg openly disagrees with her statement and notices that the lives of those living in the areas of highest risk of destruction are those of the lower classes and of minority race. “…it seems almost certain that it will be the poor and people of color who will suffer the most in the coming earthquake” (121), these are the same people that were the most effected by the earthquake of 1906 and the ones who were not accounted for in the wake of the disaster. Steinberg brings up an interesting question and one that I too want to pose, has the legislation constructed in the wake of disaster been beneficial to all classes in society (outside of economic benefits )?