The 1902 Los Alamos Earthquakes: In Brief

"Terror reigns in Los Alamos valley!" blasted the August 1st, 1902, edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, reporting on a series of earthquakes that struck the small town of Los Alamos in northern Santa Barbara County. The newspaper accounts portrayed a town which had been nearly destroyed:

With the first shock this morning, buildings in every part of the town tumbled down. ... It was preceded by a rumbling like that of distant thunder, which increased until the earth began to rock and twist and the hills began to tremble. ... Los Alamos is now being deserted as fast as railroads and other means of transportation can be pressed into service. ... Churches have been leveled to the ground ... frame buildings thrown from their foundations ... telegraph and telephone wires have been broken. ... the villiage is almost entirely deserted.

The Chronicle went on to report that huge fissures, 15 miles long and 4 miles wide, had been opened by the earthquakes. The earthquakes themselves were said to be the result of a nearby volcano.

The reality of what happened in Los Alamos was much less sensational, as the Chronicle was forced to admit the following day:

The reports of damage done have been swelled beyond all reason, and the stories of panic so distorted as to be almost absolute lies. Considerable feeling is manifested throughout the entire region against the author of the sensational reports sent out from Los Alamos.

The paper did go on to say, however, that "those who have had time for such occupation claim to have counted 75 separate shocks." And although the accounts of the panic were exaggerated, the earthquakes were frightening enough that an evacuation of about 60 people from the town did occur.

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