Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Coastal Quakes: The Reality & What You Need to Know

Having lived in California all my life I’ve been through many quakes and while you’re never sure how severe one will be, panicking is a bad idea. With the recent tragedy in Japan, it makes sense to explain the major earthquakes on the Central Coast and, at the end of this post, provide practical advice should a temblor occur. Earthquakes are part of the reality in California, but be ready to respond should one hit.

Mission LaPurisima
Lompoc -1812, about 10 a.m. (7.1) No Deaths. This quake destroyed Mission La Purisima located originally near downtown Lompoc. They rebuilt it and moved the Mission several miles away.

Lompoc -1927, 5.49 a.m. (7.1) No Deaths: This earthquake, located about 10 miles offshore produced a sea-quake so violent it killed and stunned fish near Point Arguello and shook two ships in the area. No serious damage.

Downtown Paso Robles

Paso Robles - 2003, 11:15 a.m. (6.5), Two Deaths. On December 22nd, 25 miles North-West of Paso Robles, actually near San Simeon, the earth shook. The damage was centered in downtown Paso Robles and caused two deaths when the roof slid off the clock tower building. The dormant underground sulfur springs ripped open causing flooding and a large sinkhole in the parking lot of the city hall, not to mention the town reeked of the smell of sulfur for months. Paso Robles dedicated a new clock tower in memory of the two women who died. 

Santa Barbara - 1925, (6.8) 13 Deaths. At 6:44 a.m. on June 29th all was fine and quiet on the streets of Santa Barbara. Less that two minutes later a thirty square block of the downtown core had been severely damaged. The Sheffield Dam failed plunging water into the city center; a two acre parcel west of the city sunk nearly a foot; the waterfront road (now Cabrillo Blvd.) sustained cracks of 12 inches. The quake had been felt in Anaheim 130 miles south. Much of the sub-standard construction failed and parts of commercial buildings on lower State St., built on landfill, collapsed. Brick buildings and wood construction shattered. The earthquake not only gave the city a chance to reinvent itself, but forced stricter building codes.

State Street

Architect Julia Morgan (Hearst Castle, Asilomar) was in Santa Barbara that morning. She had arrived, blueprints in hand, to meet with the building committee regarding a potential project. As she waited for the streetcar the earthquake struck and she witnessed clouds of dust envelop State Street. She spent much of that morning viewing the damage, noting which buildings survived and taking copious notes. The city faced destruction totaling $8 million, a staggering sum by 1920s standards.
Had the quake struck later in the morning as people were on their way to work the death toll would have been higher. Unlike the 1906 San Francisco quake, Santa Barbara didn’t have fires to contend with therefore damage was mitigated.

The Santa Barbara Mission
What You Need to Know:
If you are Inside: Take cover by getting under a sturdy piece of furniture and wait until the shaking stops. If there isn’t a table or desk near you, cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner where the building supports are the greatest. Freestanding walls fall easily. Stay away from glass, windows, anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures. Use a doorway for shelter only if it’s in close proximity, and if you know it’s a load bearing doorway. Stay inside until the shaking stops. Research shows that most injuries occur when people inside buildings attempt to move to a different location. Be aware that the electricity may go out or the sprinkler systems or fire alarms may turn on, or that a gas pipe might have broken. Never use the elevators!

If you are Outside: Stay there and move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires and wait until the shaking stops. The greatest danger exists directly outside of buildings. Many of the 120 fatalities from the 1933 Long Beach earthquake occurred when people ran outside only to be killed by falling debris from collapsing walls. Ground movement during an earthquake is seldom the direct cause of death or injury.

If you’re Driving: Stop as quickly as safety permits and stay in the vehicle. Avoid stopping near or under buildings, trees, overpasses, and utility wires. Proceed cautiously once the earthquake has stopped. Avoid roads, bridges, or ramps that might have been damaged.

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