California Sits on Epicenter of National Quake Damage Survey

September 21, 2000

According to the first national survey of earthquake risks, 75 percent of all losses are expected to occur in California–but quakes are not just a problem for the Golden State, as the study shows that other areas of the country have their share of risk.

Other cities at risk include Seattle; Portland, Ore.; Salt Lake City; Tacoma, Wash.; Las Vegas; Anchorage; Reno; Memphis, Tenn.; Charleston, S.C.; Albuquerque; Newark, N.J.; Honolulu and Atlanta.

Nevertheless, a state report, released at the same time as the national survey, shows that California leads the nation with $3.9 billion in potential annual damage to buildings from earthquakes. Half of that damage would be in Southern California–with one-third of it in Los Angeles County alone. L.A. County’s estimated damage toll per year is $1.6 billion, or $180 per resident.

The national survey was administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and researchers used U.S. Geological Suvey data on the quake hazards of roughly 150,000 points across the country.

In order to estimate potential losses, the FEMA researchers added information about local building inventories, economic data and other details, making it the first study of its kind to apply probability data to earthquakes. The FEMA study estimates the nation’s annual earthquake property damage losses at approximately $4.4 billion compared to annual flood losses of $5.2 billion between 1989 and 1998, according to National Weather Service data.

According to FEMA Director James Lee Witt, the risk of damage from an earthquake has grown substantially over the years, mainly because of the population growth in seismically active areas.

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