California faces serious risk of Nepal-like earthquake

In Nepal, experts had long feared that weak buildings would bring mass casualties in the event of a major quake.

BY SHELBY GRAD AND RONG-GONG LIN II
LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS

LOS ANGELES—A huge earthquake like the one in Nepal could happen in California.

A soldier helps a child evacuate in Gyirong County in Xigaze, Tibet Autonomous Region of China, after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked Nepal on April 25. (LIU DONGJUN/XINHUA/ZUMA PRESS/TNS)
A soldier helps a child evacuate in Gyirong County in Xigaze, Tibet Autonomous Region of China, after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked Nepal on April 25.  (LIU DONGJUN/XINHUA/ZUMA PRESS/TNS)

Like Nepal, California is at the intersection of huge pieces of the Earth’s crust and is prone to seismic activity. There have been quakes in California larger than April 25’s 7.8 magnitude quake in Nepal, which killed thousands.

Most notably, the 1906 San Francisco quake killed an estimated 3,000 people and was estimated to be 7.9 magnitude.

Significantly smaller quakes in highly populated areas have has resulted in major loss of life. Three modern quakes — the Loma Prieta in 1989, the Northridge in 1994 and the Sylmar in 1971 — were each less than 6.9 magnitude but each killed more than 60 people.

The 1933 Long Beach quake was 6.4 magnitude and killed 115 people.

The Long Beach quake sparked a serious effort to make buildings that better withstand earthquakes.

Retrofitting buildings
Building code changes over the decades have significantly strengthened structures. In Nepal, experts had long feared that weak buildings would bring mass casualties in the event of a major quake. A study by Geohazard International found that two-thirds of the structures built in the area did not meet the country’s own seismic code standards. Buildings in California are better equipped to survive a huge quake.

People embrace each other after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked Kathmandu, Nepal, on April 25.(PRATAP THAPA XINHUA/ZUMA PRESS/TNS)
People embrace each other after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked Kathmandu, Nepal, on April 25.
(PRATAP THAPA XINHUA/ZUMA PRESS/TNS)

There are now efforts in California to retrofit buildings that experts say are at greatest threat of collapse in a big quake. San Francisco is now requiring owners of wood apartments with weak first stories to strengthen them. Los Angeles is moving to follow suit.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti also has proposed requiring retrofitting of brittle concrete buildings as well as various pieces of the city’s infrastructure. Experts have said these concrete buildings— pose the greatest risk of loss of life in the event of a major quake.

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