Even for those born long after San Francisco's great 1906 earthquake and fire, it had become a habit to recall the warm, breezy conditions during that cataclysm. Looking out a window from her home in suburban Sunnyvale, Neta Lott remarked to her husband Byron that the Indian-summer evening of Oct. 17 seemed like "darned good earthquake weather." Moments later, the shaking and rolling began. Byron, an electrical engineer, fell to the floor. Neta tried to get up but remained pinned to her chair until she rolled onto the floor. "I sat under the desk and thought I would be buried," she...

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