California Culture And Earthquakes

One of the things that Californians define themselves by is their attitudes about earthquakes. These attitudes run the gamut when earthquakes occur, from absolutely terrified to terribly blasé.

One of the things that Californians define themselves by is their attitudes about earthquakes. These attitudes run the gamut when earthquakes occur, from absolutely terrified to terribly blasé. The level of feelings is probably related to how close the individual lives to the epicenter of the quake.

One of the interesting things about earthquakes is that people rarely feel them. For example, I live in the Los Angeles area in Southern California. During the last week, there have been twenty-one earthquakes in a hundred mile radius of where I live, including one yesterday in Fontana, roughly forty-five miles away from my home. Not only did I not feel it, I doubt the people of Fontana felt it either, as the quake was only had a magnitude of 1.2 on the Richter scale. Earthquakes occur all of the time here.

The major and most famous fault in California is the San Andreas. This is the fault that, according to all the myths, will dump part of California into the ocean. But there are numerous other faults in the state, including the West Napa fault, the Ventura fault, the Panamint Valley fault zone, and the Palos Verdes fault zone. The San Andreas fault did not cause the 1994 Northridge earthquake, which as magnitude 6.8 quake caused fifty-seven deaths and $44 billion in damage. The Northridge earthquake was the first quake that occurred in a highly populated area since the 1933 Long Beach earthquake. The Long Beach quake, associated with the Newport-Inglewood fault, was a magnitude 6.25 and caused 120 deaths. There is good news and bad news to this information. The good news is that because of building improvements and associated legislation, fewer people died in the Northridge quake than in the Long Beach quake even though the Northridge earthquake was of a higher magnitude. The bad news is that the last major earthquake on the northern portion of the San Andreas fault was the infamous San Francisco earthquake of 1906. The last major quake on the southern portion occurred in 1857. Since large earthquakes on the San Andreas fault seem to occur roughly once every 150 years, Californians should be expecting one soon, particularly in the Southern portion of the state.

Do Californians prepare for earthquakes? This is questionable. Everyone tends to go out any buy supplies after a major earthquake when they are basically useless, then forgets to re-supply as food, batteries, and water age. This is not to say that there are not some who do keep on top of earthquake preparedness. I just personally do not know of anyone that does, including me.

So how do Californians deal with earthquakes? We gloat over disasters in other parts of the country. If there is a tornado in the Midwest, we comfort ourselves that tornados "happen all of the time there," while major earthquakes occur rather infrequently here. If there is major flooding in the South, we discuss how instances of flooding seem to happen every year there, and not only has there not been an earthquake here for a while, we do not get that much flooding because it does not rain that often here. If there are devastating snow storms in the Northeast, we, particularly in Southern California, talk about how wonderful it is that it is warm here year "˜round. Basically, we take comfort in the misfortunes of others, while hoping that the next "Big One" does not occur during rush hour. This is sad, but true.

Every once in a while, I'll check up on what I should do during an earthquake, given that I can do anything, to see if the experts have come up with something new. But basically, for me and most of the people that I know, earthquakes are just "there." They have happened in the past, they are going to happen again, but since we do not know the exact date and time, we just carry on with day-to-day business.

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