Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Earthquake Fever in California

Supplies of large containers of water are going fast in California.

We, in California, were supposed to be hit by this enormous earthquake (Last week? This weekend? Predictions seem to vary.) and I didn't even know about it until a friend told me she had been unable to buy bottled water during a recent trip to Target.

Apparently, the silliness began with an article in Newsweek (didn't even know anyone read that anymore) by a fellow called Simon Winchester who said a big earthquake in California "could happen soon" "because of" the earthquake in Japan. Wow, that's what I call "accurate science."

Winchester, from Great Britain, is the author of A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906 and I suspect if you read his book, which I have not, you might learn that science has, thus far, not developed a means for predicting earthquakes.

What we can predict is that in California there will be between 2000 and 3000 people killed every year in car accidents.

Earthquakes in the whole of the U.S., not to mention California, don't even come close to deadly statistics like that.

It is very true that the 1906 quake in San Francisco was terrible and something like 3000 people died--no one is exactly sure of that figure, because of the chaos and bad statistical reporting of the era. Also, some people died in the dynamiting of buildings and the subsequent fires and others were shot by troops who erroneously thought they were supposed to control looting--of which there was very little.

But that's been the worst earthquake in our history. Remember that big quake in Alaska in 1964? It killed 128 people.

The Loma Prieta quake in 1989, which set fires in San Francisco and pancaked part of the Bay Bridge? Total dead: 63. Number who died of thirst because of non availability of potable water? Zero.

Even the Northridge quake in Southern California in 1994 took just 60 lives--and it seems to me some of those who died were victims of Angelinos shooting each other. Oh well--can't remember. Number of people who died of thirst? Zero.

According to the US Geological survey, the total number of people killed in US earthquakes since 1811--including the SF earthquake--is approximately 3856, and we can easily top that deadly number annually, on our nation's highways.

If you live near faults in the earth, keeping a good earthquake kit around is an excellent idea. Unlike hurricanes and tornadoes--which have taken far more lives in the U.S. over the centuries--we can't predict earthquakes. So you might as well just go and waste a little time worrying about the weather, or aliens landing in Alamogordo. It will make just a much sense.

I'm not completely cavalier. I have the old family clock stuck firmly to the wall with bolts and nails and sticky strips.

And as for Mr. Winchester and his earthquake predictions? He should avoid Florida during hurricane season. And be careful crossing streets--especially in his home country where they continue to drive on the wrong side of the road.

USGS Quake Statistics for US

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