A recent spate of earthquakes has California and other coastal state residents on high alert. Is there anything that can be done to prepare for or even stop a mega-quake from causing mass mayhem on the West Coast?
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Tens of millions of Americans were reminded of the dangers of living near a fault line when two earthquakes struck around 24 hours apart in almost the exact same location—about 150 miles from Los Angeles in Ridgecrest, California. The first (6.4 magnitude) struck on July 4 in the morning while the second, even larger earthquake (7.1 magnitude) struck the evening of July 5.
The quakes buckled highways and ruptured gas lines that sparked several house fires, and officials said about 50 homes in the nearby small town of Trona were damaged. No one was killed or seriously injured, which authorities attributed to the remote location in the Mojave Desert.
Seismologists said a similar-sized quake in a major city like San Francisco, Los Angeles or San Diego could collapse bridges, buildings and freeways, as well as spark devastating fires fueled by broken gas lines.
The temblor occurred during a live CBS News broadcast on July 5. A news anchor grabbed her colleague’s arm and exclaimed, “I think we need to get under the desk.”
A video clip from a nearby restaurant in Coachella captured hanging lights swaying violently like swings at a park.
A man living in Ridgecrest posted a video to the internet of his apartment living room rattling like popcorn. The television jumped off its mounts and a cat lept out of a room.
Pictures of the twin earthquake’s aftermath filled social media feeds: Liquor store aisles littered with wine bottles, roads with significant cracks, and rooftops burning.
But these are not the biggest concerns among those who have experienced earthquakes before.
“When you see a place that suffers two huge earthquakes back-to-back like that, I always think what’s next?” said Laura Sampson of Palmer, Alaska. “It absolutely makes me think of worrying about what comes next and if I’m prepared.”
Mrs. Sampson was at home in her community northeast of Anchorage last November when a magnitude 7.0 earthquake shook the area.
Californians live with the daily threat of seismic activity. According to the United States Geological Survey, Southern California experiences over 10,000 quakes each year—most of which cannot be felt. However, 15-20 of these temblors are greater than 4.0 in magnitude and can be felt. This means that residents should expect to feel at least one per month.
“We’re going to have a magnitude 6, on average, somewhere in Southern California every few years. We’ve actually gone 20 years without one, so we have had the quietest 20 years in the history of Southern California,” said seismologist Lucy Jones of the California Institute of Technology.
“That’s unlikely to continue on the long run,” she added. “Geology keeps on moving…and we should be expecting a higher rate. And when it happens near people, it is going to be a lot worse.”
Articles permeated the biggest news outlets almost immediately after the recent California quakes, from “California Earthquake Is a Reminder that the Big One Lurks” to “How to make your own emergency kit before the Big One hits.”
For most, the term evokes images of Hollywood doomsday movies such as San Andreas. It would be a quake so massive that would leave the western half of the state plunging into the ocean.
The reality is not quite that devastating, but it is certainly no small disaster. According to the USGS, the “Big One” refers to an earthquake of 7.8 magnitude or greater on the southern San Andreas fault. This may not seem much more than the 7.1-magnitude California quake, but the intensity of quakes increases exponentially on the moment magnitude scale. For example, a 7.8 would be 11 times more powerful than the Ridgecrest quake.
The USGS conducted a simulation of such a temblor hitting the southern San Andreas fault at 9:00 a.m. These were the results:
• 1,800 deaths
• 1,600 fires ignited, most of them large
• 750 people trapped inside buildings with complete collapse
• 270,000 people immediately displaced from their homes
• 50,000 people needing emergency care
• Search and rescue efforts would last for nearly three weeks
• $213 billion in economic losses
The head of California’s Earthquake Authority, Glen Pomeroy, stated that recent events are “an important reminder that all of California is earthquake country.”
California Governor Gavin Newsom said in a news conference after the back-to-back earthquakes, “We all, I think, have a unique role and responsibility to bear—individually—to be prepared for the next earthquake of magnitude even greater than 7.1.”
“It is a wake-up call for the rest of the state and other parts of the nation, frankly,” Mr. Newsom said.
For many Californians, the wake-up call meant recalling lessons from previous quakes and being ready for survival.
The July 4 and 5 earthquakes were felt throughout the region, and for Los Angeles residents old enough they brought memories of the 1994 Northridge 6.7-magnitude earthquake that killed 61 people and caused $15 billion in damage.
Greg Messigian of Los Angeles recalled how that quake damaged his San Fernando Valley home: “We had brick walls around the perimeter that had fallen down. We had cracks in the pool. Inside the house everything that we ever had on a shelf was broken. Television sets fell off the places where they were and cracked.”
The recent quakes spurred Mr. Messigian to action. On July 7, he began going over his preparedness kit, making sure he had everything he would need for the next quake.
Among the contents: Enough water to last a week, extra shoes and clothes, blankets, flashlights, batteries, food, a cellphone charger and food for the family dog. On top of that, he has an escape route planned and keeps one car parked in the garage and another in the driveway—in case the garage collapses.
On a national scale, however, emergency preparedness is much more complex.
Several technologies exist or are being developed that can help detect earthquakes as they happen. The USGS is currently running pilot programs to issue cellphone Amber Alerts and announced the system was ready to be used more widely in October 2018. Currently, Los Angeles is the only city to have a mass public alert application called ShakeAlertLA. The system detects that an earthquake is occurring (through seismometers), rapidly calculates expected intensity levels and sends out alerts that give warnings ranging from several seconds to even a minute before potential damage strikes.
Yet the system is relatively new and admits on its website that it “might send warnings for earthquakes too small to cause damage or when there is no earthquake at all. Also, the system could fail to send warnings or send them too late to be acted upon.”
In addition, “It is also important to note that large earthquakes are not instantaneous. A fault takes time to rupture and ShakeAlert can’t predict how big an earthquake will become.”
The ShakeAlert system is only 50 percent complete as of January 2019 and current mass notification technology needs to be updated to deliver the alerts quickly.
New research in Iceland suggests scientists can use existing fiberoptic communications cable to assess seismic activity. In tests, a laser pulse sent down a single fiber of cable was sufficient to determine whether there were any disturbances along its length. When both the ground and cable was stretched or compressed, the team was able to record it. Dr. Jousset, one of the lead researchers, stated, “It’s almost as good as a seismometer.”
This system could prove to be much less expensive than current seismometer-based technology and already has the necessary equipment installed all over the world. However, it is not yet developed for immediate widespread use.
The USGS stated on its website: “Neither the USGS nor any other scientists have ever predicted a major earthquake. We do not know how, and we do not expect to know how any time in the foreseeable future. USGS scientists can only calculate the probability that a significant earthquake will occur in a specific area within a certain number of years.”
Outside of calculating probabilities from empirical data and real time warning during a seismic event, geologists, seismologists and geophysicists cannot directly predict or prevent against impending disaster.
Over millennia, many have perceived their narrow escape from earthquakes or similar situations as a wake-up call from a higher power. Others simply view their occurrence as time and chance.
Even 113 years after a 7.9-magnitude earthquake struck San Francisco in 1906, the devastation and damage stands as a stark reminder of what geologic forces in California have to offer.
“That second upheaval was heartrending,” Fred J. Hewitt wrote in “Wreck of City’s Buildings Awful” in the San Francisco Examiner, April 20, 1906. “It made me think of the loved ones in different portions of the country. It turned my stomach, gave me a heartache that I will never forget and caused me to sink upon my knees and pray to the Almighty God that me and mine should escape the awful fate I knew was coming to so many thousands.”
Another eyewitness recounted: “Remaining in bed—it can hardly be said ‘quietly,’ with all the throbbing of the house—until the shock had passed, wondering and commenting on what was happening outside and how it was affecting the tall buildings down town, and whether it might bind our doors so that we could not get out of our room, all the time with a calming subconsciousness of the good Providence of Almighty God as our ‘Refuge, though the earth be moved.’”
Realizing their futility against the cataclysmic forces in nature, people are moved to seek a higher power.
This is not new. The Bible records several accounts of earthquakes—small and great—used to get people’s attention.
The prophet Elijah was prepared to hear God’s voice by a strong wind, an earthquake and fire (I Kgs. 19:11-14).
When ancient Israel was in the wilderness, God used an earthquake to stop a rebellion: “as he [Moses] had made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground clave asunder that was under them: and the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods. They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation” (Num. 16:31-33).
After Jesus Christ died, God sent a powerful earthquake that stirred those observing: “Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake…they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God” (Matt. 27:54).
None of these events were coincidence or “geology moving on.” They were all specific events that a Supreme Being used to fulfill His purpose—waking people up to present reality. They reveal God’s pattern for working with humanity, a pattern that His Word indicates will be used again.
The prophet Haggai recorded: “For thus says the Lord of hosts; yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land” (2:6). Isaiah, another prophet, added to this by describing how this earthquake will affect the planet’s entire topography (Isa. 40:4).
This will be an earthquake the likes of which the Earth has never seen.
Billions of people are wholly unprepared for an event of such magnitude, partly because most dismiss that it is even possible. The USGS website, when answering “Can ‘MegaQuakes’ really happen?” states: “No, earthquakes of magnitude 10 or larger cannot happen. The magnitude of an earthquake is related to the length of the fault on which it occurs. That is, the longer the fault, the larger the earthquake. A fault is a break in the rocks that make up the Earth’s crust, along which rocks on either side have moved past each other. No fault long enough to generate a magnitude 10 earthquake is known to exist, and if it did, it would extend around most of the planet.”
Of course, looking at physical properties alone, this is logical. So what proof do you have to believe in the words of a seemingly archaic book?
You do not have to take chances on whether a “Big One” is coming. You can prove God’s existence and that the Bible is His Word—and in doing so turn to Him for protection.
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This article contains information from The Associated Press.