History

“When the Earth Shook”

"The Salvation Army continues to respond to all types of disasters, large and small. The Salvation Army is there." by Major Jason Swain

For over 120 years, The Salvation Army has responded to meet the needs of the people in all types of disasters and emergencies. The first recorded instance involved a convert named George Elliott, who gave out drinking water to firemen as they fought the great Chicago fires in 1889.

In 1900, when a hurricane flooded and destroyed the town of Galveston, TX, the Houston area Salvation Army members and officers rushed to help those who fled the storm. Within days, 12 officers arrived to set up relief stations and shelters for the “storm refugees,” who numbered in the thousands.

And then the earth shook. On April 18, 1906, a massive earthquake hit in San Francisco, CA. Several Army properties were damaged or destroyed. The Santa Ana Corps collapsed, but the corps officers were able to climb out of the wreckage. Fires raged around the city as gas lines burst and the mainly wooden structures turned into blazing infernos.

The area headquarters building burnt to the ground with only the large safe and a melted cornet recovered once the fires abated. Down, but not out, The Salvation Army started to help. There was no plan and no real organization. The help was spontaneous and very practical. Across the bay in Oakland, the corps was opened to support refugees, and within days, most of the remaining officers and soldiers of San Francisco had moved to Oakland.

Fundraising began at once in Chicago and New York. Commander Evangeline Booth traveled to San Francisco and encouraged her weary troops. She was delighted by all that had been accomplished in a few short weeks. At Golden Gate Park on May 30, a huge meeting was held, and many Salvationist thought that their Commander gave the best sermon ever, as she charmed the city’s residents. By that fall, San Francisco was back in operation. The rubble had been cleared away, and new buildings were being constructed. The relief operations closed down, and the Army continued singing and preaching with renewed vigor.

Since that time, The Salvation Army continues to respond to all types of disasters, large and small. From wildfires and tornadoes, to hurricanes and national emergencies, The Salvation Army is there. 

For more information about The Salvation Army’s work in disasters, visit disaster.salvationarmyusa.org. | Photos by National Headquarters Archives

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