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Massive Earthquake Could Hit US West Coast, Scientists Warn

San Francisco
San Francisco from the Marin Headlands on March 31, 2019 during California’s Superbloom. Credit: Noah Friedlander, via Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

A massive earthquake could strike San Francisco at any moment, scientists warn. When it does, the city and its surrounding area can expect to be slammed with the force of hundreds of atomic bombs.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) recently released a study that focused on the San Francisco Bay Area Hayward Fault. It explored what the region’s impacts would be, if it was affected by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake.

The Hayward Fault, which includes Berkeley, Oakland, Richmond, and Fremont, is one of the most dangerous faults in the country — and it’s also one of the most urbanized.

According to the study, there is a large earthquake on the Hayward Fault every 100 to 220 years, with the last one being 150 years ago, in 1868 AD, so the region is due for another one.

Massive West Coast earthquake to go “HayWired”

“When the Hayward Fault raptures — the roads, the pipes, the wires, the things that connect everyone to people and places — will go HayWired,” the study says.

The USGS analysis is based on the latest science, but experts say this isn’t a prediction.

“A real earthquake on the Hayward Fault could occur at any time and may behave quite differently,” the study authors claim.

The study created a hypothetical scenario where the earthquake started at 4:19 p.m. on April 18, 2018, with the epicenter being Oakland.

It shows the rupture racing towards Fremont and Richmond, at the speed of 7,000 mph, for 52 miles.

In this scenario, “In Berkeley and Hayward, the ground shifts three to five feet, ripping through buried pipes and wires.”

As per the USGS Shake Map, the quake could last for up to 30 seconds in certain areas. “Away from the epicenter, a warning arrives up to 25 seconds before strong shaking begins,” the study continues.


Millions of people may be impacted by massive West Coast earthquake

“Impacts and destruction are magnified by a cascade of hazards,” they state. In their model, 800 people die and 18,000 are injured in the quake.

A total of 2,500 people would need to be rescued from collapsed buildings, with another 22,000 trapped in elevators. Additionally, 77,000 to 152,000 households would be displaced.

A number of East Bay residents would lose access to water for six weeks, and the worst-hit regions could lose water service for six months.

A lack of firefighting water could turn 400 fires into infernos that burn entire city blocks, with estimates running at 52,000 single-family homes, according to the study.

1906 San Francisco earthquake
The city of San Francisco after the devastating 1906 earthquake. Credit: Public Domain

“Every lifeline” would be disrupted to some extent, they add, noting “Dozens of significant aftershocks and fault afterslip would cause additional damage, requiring repeated inspections and repairs.”

Monetary losses would exceed $82 billion, mostly because of “shaking, but also liquefaction and landslides.”

Fires could cause $30 billion in damages, but experts say the study “gives us a chance to envision our vulnerabilities and a chance to prepare. Acting now can save lives and jobs, businesses, neighborhoods and homes.”

Despite the fact the Bay Area has invested billions in earthquake readiness, the study says it’s important they continue to strengthen points of failure, including infrastructure and buildings, that may be most vulnerable.

No one can predict when the next huge earthquake will hit California, but experts are in agreement that, at the very least, the Hayward fault should see one in the next 30 years.

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