Monday, March 17, 2014

Today’s 4.4 Quake 900 Times Weaker Than ’94 Northridge

San Andreas Fault near Los Angeles

Today’s 4.4 earthquake centered at the intersection of Mulholland Drive and the 405 freeway was 900 times weaker than the January 17, 1994 Northridge earthquake, according to the Los Angeles Times.

I guess we should be relieved.

The quake, a “light” one, according to the Southern California Earthquake Data Center, struck at 6:25 AM.  Already, YouTube clips of a number of local television anchors in various states of panic have been posted and re-posted across social media.  Bottom line, there was little damage and no reported injuries.  There have been a half dozen or more aftershocks, and of course, as every news outlet keeps insisting, this could be a prequel to a larger quake, but that only happens in five percent of seismic events.

Every day, I drive the Sepulveda pass right through the epicenter of today’s quake.  There was nothing unusual this morning, an hour after the event, and traffic was unexceptional.  The construction crews that have been camped out for a thousand years widening the 405 were still there pushing dirt around and playing in the gigantic sandbox that constitutes the clogged artery of the roadway also known as the San Diego Freeway.

The problem with today’s event is that we have not had a measurable quake in southern California in a while.  We have become complacent, lulled into our doldrums by stable ground and warm weather.  So at 6:25 we got a little reminder.

Nothing to fear but fear itself, to quote a long ago U.S. president.  For now.  Most scientists say a larger quake is coming, always on the horizon.  Is fracking making the likelihood greater?  Is there such thing as earthquake weather?  The first answer is maybe; the second is no.  But even without fracking, Los Angeles is earthquake country, and big ones happen with regularity, at least over geological time.

Earthquakes prey on the innate fear humans have of loss of control.  We have no warning of a quake.  We cannot flee to higher ground, or seek cover in a basement.  There is no earthquake season.  When Northridge hit in ’94, I thought I might move somewhere out of state to avoid future shifts in tectonics, but I found that every state has earthquakes, and although I consulted maps published by the United States Geological Survey, actual earth shaking since then has confirmed what I found on the maps.  The strongest earthquakes in the country occurred in Missouri in 1811-12 and registered 7.5 to 8.9 on the Richter scale.  They supposedly rattled plates in the White House, and the shaking was felt over one million square miles.  So it appears we cannot escape our quivering earth.

Unlike the frightened news anchors who dive under their desks on live television, we must remain cool and calm.  According to several sources, more people are killed running out of buildings during quakes than are killed sheltering in place.  So duck and cover, hold on, and wait for the shaking to stop.

And get used to it.  In Los Angeles, to paraphrase the philosopher Yogi Berra, an earthquake here is simply “déjà vu all over again.”

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