A fault has been discovered beneath the Los Angeles basinthat could generate an earthquake far more intense than hadpreviously been thought possible in the area. Expertsestimate that a magnitude 7.2 to 7.5 quake along the newlydiscovered Puente Hills fault could kill up to 18,000 peopleand leave hundreds of thousands homeless. The number ofinjured could exceed a quarter of a million.

The fault runs directly under Los Angeles County andproduces a major rupture approximately every 3,000 years. Itlast ruptured approximately 2,000 years ago.

The estimates of death and damage assume the worst-casescenario, a quake taking place in mid-afternoon of aworkday. Most of the casualties would result from thecollapse of downtown skyscrapers, which have not been builtto withstand such an intense earthquake. If the quake tookplace at night, injuries and deaths would be far less,because people are at less risk in lightly constructed homesthan in massive, vulnerable office buildings.

There is at present no evidence to suggest that the fault isunstable or that another quake is due soon. Siesmologistscannot yet predict earthquake activity with any certainty,however, and are recommending that major buildings in theLos Angeles basin be strengthened, and that the buildingcode be rewritten to reflect the danger of higher intensityearthquakes.

A quake may not be coming today, but there is alwaysthe dayafter tomorrow.

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