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May 22 / Dave Schumaker

USGS Earthquake Scenario for Southern California

The USGS released information about a “disaster earthquake scenario” for Southern California today. The scenario hypothesizes what would happen if a M7.8 earthquake were to happen on the San Andreas fault. The resulting damages to lives and infrastructure are pretty grim, predicting upwards of $200 billion in economic losses.

The strongest shaking and greatest damage is near the stretch of the San Andreas Fault that extends through the fastest growing areas of Southern California, including the Coachella Valley, Inland Empire and Antelope Valley.

At least 10 million people will be exposed to heavy shaking. California’s efforts at mitigation have concentrated on life safety and have been largely successful. Thus, in spite of the large numbers of people in highly shaken areas, deaths are estimated at only 1,800.

Building types known to be vulnerable to damage and collapse, do indeed sustain major damage. All un-reinforced masonry buildings within 15 miles of the San Andreas Fault are completely destroyed. Those that are not retrofitted kill many occupants. Many other older building types without retrofitting contribute to over $33 billion in damage to buildings.

The fault offsets all lifelines crossing into Southern California at Cajon Pass (Interstate 15), San Gorgonio Pass (Interstate 10) and along Route 14, including pipelines, power lines, roads, railways, telecommunications and aqueducts.

Strong shaking continues in downtown Los Angeles for 55 seconds nearly 8 times longer than in the Northridge Earthquake

The prolonged, strong shaking heavily damages and sometimes collapses hundreds of old brick buildings, thousands of older commercial and industrial concrete buildings, many wood-frame buildings, and even a few, high-rise steel buildings. Over 600,000 buildings suffer at least some damage that causes tens of thousands of injuries and hundreds of deaths, and leaves many thousands of people without homes or jobs.

Fire doubles the fatalities and economic losses. Around Southern California, there will be 1,600 fires started large enough to warrant a 911 call, and some fires merge into conflagrations that burn hundreds of city blocks. Assuming no Santa Ana winds, the models still indicate a further $65 billion in direct losses and $22 billion in indirect losses from the fires.

Nearly two thirds of the hospital beds are non-functional in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties. At the same time, 50,000 people will seek treatment at emergency rooms.

Andrew Alden at briefly wrote about this yesterday.

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