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Climate and Environment

A Destructive Quake Struck Turkey. A Similar Big One Could Hit Southern California At Any Time

A collapsed building turned into debris is being searched by dozens of people looking for survivors following a massive earthquake in Turkey on February 6, 2023.
Rescuers search for victims and survivors amidst the rubble of a building that collapsed in Adana on February 6, 2023, after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the country's south-east.
(CAN EROK/AFP via Getty Images
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Early Monday morning, those living in and around southern Turkey were awoken by a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake that pancaked buildings, and resulted in thousands of deaths and injuries. The shaking was so extreme that it was felt as far away as Beirut.

After hours of relentless aftershocks, another massive 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck the area, adding to the destruction.

Earthquakes this size are unusual, but not unheard of in the region. This most recent temblor is the largest that’s hit Turkey in decades. And it’s a good reminder that, even though we haven’t seen a Big One in Southern California since the 1800s, we need to be prepared.

“We can’t predict when it’ll happen, but we do know that eventually an earthquake of this size will hit Southern California,” said Morgan Page, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Pasadena.

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Southern California Is Due For A Big One

There’s a 15% chance that Southern California will get hit by a 7.8 magnitude or larger quake sometime in the next three decades. That’s 44 times more powerful than what we felt during the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

“If we had an earthquake on the San Andreas, which is a similar kind of fault to the East Anatolia fault in Turkey, we would have similar levels of shaking,” said Page.

The Big One: Your Survival Guide
  • At LAist, we've thought a lot about how to motivate people to prep for the massive earthquake that's inevitable here in Southern California. We even dedicated an entire podcast to it.

  • We teamed up in 2021 with our friends at the L.A. Times to push Southern Californians to get ready. You can watch that virtual event covering the basics of quake survival. We've also gathered the best of our coverage in a no-nonsense guide to getting ready. No more excuses. Let's do this.

The potential impacts of a 7.8 magnitude San Andreas quake were laid out by the U.S. Geological Survey in a report released last decade, called The ShakeOut Scenario.

It says that shaking will last upwards of two minutes and will be so violent that those near the epicenter will be thrown to the ground, unable to stand, much less run to safety. There could be building collapses, but likely not on the same scale of what we’re seeing in Turkey because of the types of buildings here.

Fires will likely break out as gas lines rupture, and water would be unavailable to fight conflagrations as our ancient cast-iron water distribution lines crack and lose pressure. If the quake hit on a windy day, it wouldn’t be a surprise if neighborhoods burned down.

The report estimates that we’d likely see upwards of 1,800 deaths and 15,000 injuries.

Hospitals and emergency services will likely be overwhelmed, and you’ll largely be on your own for days, if not weeks, as outside help slowly trickles in. And that’s why it’s important to prepare.

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A Deadly Quake Could Come From Any Number of Faults

It’s not just the San Andreas that you should pay attention to.

The San Jacinto and Elsinore faults are large and could also cause region-wide chaos. And then there are the smaller faults like Puente Hills, which runs directly underneath a densely populated part of L.A., and could do immense damage there.

Look at a map of the region with the faults highlighted, and you’ll see quakes can come from almost any direction.

A map of Southern California with the faults displayed. Looks like someone threw spaghetti down!
A map faults stretching across Southern California as seen on the Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast. The big red line in the upper right is the San Andreas fault.
(Southern California Earthquake Center

Get Prepared

If you want to learn more about this specific scenario and how to prepare for it, listen to our podcast, The Big One: Your Survival Guide, which takes you through terrifying post quake LA.

Over here we’ve got guides to help you put together go bags, and remind you to stock up on water, food, and medicine, because during a disaster you’re going to have to help yourself and your neighbors first.

What do you want to know about fires, earthquakes, climate change or any science-related topics?
Jacob Margolis helps Southern Californians understand the science shaping our imperfect paradise and gets us prepared for what’s next.

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