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Historical Earthquakes in California

Historical Earthquakes in California

Earthquakes are a fairly regular occurrence in California, since the state is located on more than one hundred active faults.  There are many, many tiny earthquakes each year that are so small that they are not even felt by California residents.  Over the last two hundred plus years, however, California has experienced a number of extremely powerful earthquakes.  Most residents are aware that another strong earthquake is expected sometime in the next thirty years.  Each of the earthquakes listed below could be considered a “BIG ONE” in the history of California’s seismic activity.

  • The earliest recorded earthquake in California was felt in 1769; the epicenter was approximately 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles, very near the San Andreas fault.  Research shows that this quake was so strong that the extreme force was able to raise the Orange County shoreline more than eleven feet in some places.
  • In early 1857, a powerful earthquake near Fort Tejon, took down many buildings in the area.  Because the southern and central areas California were not very populated at that point in time, damage from the earthquake was negligable.   While the damage was limited, this earthquake is considered to be the largest and strongest recorded earthquake in California, with an estimated magnitude of 8.0.   It was so strong that it ripped apart 225 miles of the San Andreas fault.
  • In October 1868, another fierce earthquake killed many people in the area of Hayward and San Leandro.  Until the 1906 earthquake, this earthquake was called “The Great Earthquake”.
  • The most destructive earthquake to hit California was the 7.9 magnitude San Francisco earthquake that struck on April 18, 1906.  Damage was widespread all over the entire city of San Francisco and the devastation was increased tenfold by the many rampant fires that were a direct result of the seismic activity.  More than 3000 people perished in the earthquake and total damage was estimated at over $500 million.  This particular earthquake caused a 296 mile rupture along the northern segment of the San Andreas Fault.
  • In May, 1940, the Imperial Valley in southern California experienced a major earthquake (7.1 magnitude); this particular earthquake took the lives of nine people and damaged or destroyed 80% of the buildings in the area.
  • In July, 1952, the towns of Arvin and Tehacapi (along the White Wolf fault) were hit severely by an earthquake measuring 7.7 on the Richter scale.  It was the most powerful earthquake to hit Southern California in the 20th century and the largest in the U.S. since San Francisco’s quake in 1906.
  • Eighty-three years after the Great Earthquake of 1906, on October 17, 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake brought an end to eight decades of tranquility in the San Francisco Bay region.  Just before the third game of the 1989 World Series was to begin that year, a 6.9 earthquake rocked California from Monterey to San Francisco.  In just a  few short moments, this earthquake collapsed highways and buildings, killing 63 people and causing more than $6 billion in property damage.
  • Many Los Angeles residents remember the Northridge earthquake that occurred on January 17, 1994; this quake displaced more than 20,000 people from their homes in a contemporary urban environment that was designed for better seismic resistance.  This more recent earthquake, which occurred on a blind thrust fault, was one of the strongest ground motions ever recorded in North America.  Many freeways collapsed, and numerous buildings suffered irreparable damages. Vertical and horizontal accelerations lifted structures directly off their foundations.  The economic losses were estimated at $20 billion, and 57 people died as a result of this powerful California quake.

No one knows exactly when to expect the next “BIG ONE”!

Scientists predict that the next big, and potentially disastrous, earthquake could happen at any time within the next thirty years.  All-in-all, earthquakes are never expected, so they take us all by surprise.  Since we do not know exactly when the next “BIG ONE” will occur in California, commercial property owners should do whatever they can now to protect their property and their tenants from the possible devastation that can happen as a result of a fierce and powerful earthquake.  The California earthquake history listed above is just a small, partial list of all the earthquake activity that has taken place just in California over the last three hundred years.   Details gathered over the years tell us that as the population density rises, fatality rates and property damage assessments rise considerably as well.   Most commercial properties built prior to 1986 were not constructed to withstand the powerful seismic forces resulting from activity below the earth’s surface.   If you are a commercial building owner in California, you should consider reinforcing your property, with a seismic retrofit, before the next “BIG ONE” strikes.

Seismic retrofitting is done for a number of different reasons, with the most common being to ensure the safety and security of a building’s tenants or employees, machinery and inventory. While it is fine to imagine that all buildings in danger zones were initially built to withstand the forces of seismic activity, that is simply not the case.  To find out more about whether your commercial property in the Los Angeles area should be strengthened and reinforced to withstand the impact of the “BIG ONE”, call Saunders Commercial Earthquake Retrofit Bay Area today!

Southern California Office

(949) 646-0034

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