The Fort Tejon earthquake of 1857 was one of the greatest earthquakes ever recorded in the U.S., and left an amazing surface rupture scar over 350 kilometers in length along the San Andreas fault. Yet, despite the immense scale of this quake, only two people were reported killed by the effects of the shock.
The fact that only two lives were lost was primarily due to the nature of the quake’s setting; California in 1857 was sparsely populated, especially in the regions of strongest shaking, and this fact, along with good fortune, kept the loss of life to a minimum. The effects of the quake were quite dramatic, even frightening. Were the Fort Tejon shock to happen today, the damage would easily run into billions of dollars, and the loss of life would likely be substantial, as the present day communities of Wrightwood, Palmdale, Frazier Park, and Taft (among others) all lie upon or near the 1857 rupture area.
On March 10, 1933 at 5:54pm., a magnitude 6.4 earthquake hit the Newport-Inglewood Fault, causing serious damage in Long Beach and other communities. This earthquake resulted in 120 deaths and more than $50 million in property damage.
At 4:30am, on January 17, 1994, residents of the greater Los Angeles area were rudely awakened by the strong shaking of the Northridge earthquake. This was the first earthquake to strike directly under an urban area of the united States since the 1933 Long Beach earthquake.
The magnitude 6.7 Northridge quake killed 72 people, knocked seven freeways out of service, and caused $20 billion in damage. Until the destruction of New Orleans, it was the worst damage ever inflicted on a U.S. city in most Americans’ lifetimes.
During the Earthquake
If indoors, stay there. Get under a desk or table or stand in a corner. Stay away from windows, bookcases, file cabinets, heavy mirrors, hanging plants and other heavy objects that could fall. Watch out for falling plaster and ceiling tiles. Stay under cover until the shaking stops. Hold on to your cover – if it moves, move with it.
If outdoors, get into an open area away from trees, buildings, walls, and power lines.
If driving, pull over to the side of the road and stop. Avoid areas around power lines. Stay in your car until the shaking is over.
If in a crowded public place, do not rush for the doors. Crouch and cover your head and neck with your hands and arms.
After the Earthquake
Do no attempt to use the telephone unless there is an immediate, life threatening emergency.
If it is safe, check for gas and water leaks, and broken electrical wiring or sewage lines. If there is damage, turn the utility off at the source and immediately report gas leaks to your utility company.
Stay away from downed power lines and warn others to stay away.
Do not attempt to re-light the gas pilot unless your gas line has been thoroughly inspected. Call the Gas Company for assistance.
If you are able to safely do so, check your building for cracks and damages, including the roof, chimney, and foundation.
Turn on your portable radio for instructions and news reports.
Cooperate fully with public safety officials and follow instructions; they are trained to ensure safety.
Do not use your vehicle unless there is an emergency.
Be prepared for aftershocks – Stay calm and help others.
If you evacuate, leave a message at your home telling family members and others where you can be found.