Expert: Big Fault-Line Earthquake Would Nearly Destroy Los Angeles

Thursday, 12 Dec 2013 12:47 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Southern California, particularly Los Angeles, is not ready for the major impact of a high-magnitude earthquake shifting the San Andreas fault, a leading earthquake expert warns.

"Loss of shelter, loss of schools, loss of jobs and emotional hardship," Dr Lucy Jones, a science adviser for risk reduction for the U.S. Geology Service, said this week. "We are risking the ends of our cities."

Jones' remarks came during a lecture to the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, during which her lecture, "Imagine America Without Los Angeles," painted a horrifying picture of the state's future, reports CBS affiliate KCAL9. h

Jones, pointing to a USGS study called "The ShakeOut Scenario," said a major earthquake does far more damage than just collapsing buildings and freeways like earthquakes in the past.

Modern life and conveniences are creating new vulnerabilities for California's population that could be devastating if the "big one" hits, Jones explained.

Los Angeles' supermarkets don't even warehouse their own food, said Jones, as the Internet and quick shipping allows them to store supplies on the other side of the San Andreas Fault.

Fiber optics would also be disconnected if there is a large earthquake, said Jones, meaning Los Angeles would be completely cut off from the rest of the world.

"Two-thirds of the connectivity from Los Angeles to the rest of the world go through fiber-optic cables crossing the San Andreas fault," Jones said. "So we expect at the time of the earthquake when the fault moves, we will break these fiber-optic cables and two-thirds of the data capacity between L.A. and everyone else will disappear."

Natural gas and water would also be in short supply, said Jones. Natural gas pipelines cross the fault, and L.A.'s aging water lines, which already break frequently, likely would not stand up to a major earthquake, she said.

Water lines could take at least six months to be replaced, the USGS report says. "The ShakeOut Scenario" from the USGS estimates it could take six months for the broken water pipes to be replaced across Southern California after the earthquake.

Damage to the area's high-tech capabilities could also hinder recovery efforts in Southern California, Jones said.

"The World Wide Web wasn't in existence at the time of the Northridge earthquake," she said, speaking of the region's last major quake, which hit back in 1994. "Right now, think of how much both your personal life, but also our economic system, depends on having cellphone communications and Internet connectivity."

The Northridge quake affected about a half-million people, Jones said, but a major earthquake on the San Andreas fault would hit about 10 million Californians.

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