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California is 'overdue' for a catastrophic earthquake, experts warn

Massive quake 'overdue' in California's desert resort

California's next big earthquake could take place among the golf courses and weekend resort hotels of Palm Springs, a senior government seismologist has warned, raising the prospect of thousands of dead on Los Angeles's doorstep and long-term devastation akin to the crippling of the New Orleans region following Hurricane Katrina.

Lucy Jones, an expert with the US Geological Survey and a member of the California Seismic Safety Commission, told local political leaders that their area was at least 150 years overdue for a major earthquake, based on historical patterns. It wasn't unreasonable, she said, to expect a quake measuring close to eight on the Richter scale, strong enough to devastate homes, rip open and ignite oil pipelines, collapse freeways and expose even those who did survive to extreme desert temperatures without the benefit of heat in the winter or air conditioning in the summer.

"There will be several thousand dead and billions of dollars in damage," Ms Jones said. The force of a 7.8 earthquake in Palm Springs was also likely to topple buildings and create other forms of chaos in Los Angeles, whose outer suburbs begin 30 miles to the west of Palm Springs.

Palm Springs and the surrounding Coachella Valley sit between two major faults - the San Andreas, which runs the length of California, and the San Jacinto.

Ms Jones said stresses had been building up under both, raising the prospect of a quake in which the ground moves at ten feet per second. In the last major quake to hit the Los Angeles area, the Northridge earthquake of 1994, the ground moved at about six feet per second - enough to destroy and damage hundreds of homes but stopping short of a catastrophe.

Ms Jones said major earthquakes had historically hit the Coachella Valley every 150 years, but for reasons nobody could explain it had been spared for the past 300. Three hundred years ago, of course, there was not much there except Mojave desert dust and a few Native American colonies.

Since the 1930s, Palm Springs in particular has become known as a playground for Hollywood types, the Frank Sinatra "rat pack", and current and former presidents who like to enjoy the golfing greenery created by its underground hot springs. In the past 20 years the population has rocketed as a result of Los Angeles's growing suburban sprawl and the development of casinos owned and operated by the area's Indian tribes.

The Palm Springs area is far from the only part of California threatened by natural disaster. The whole Los Angeles urban area sits on a patchwork of seismic faults that threaten to shake at any moment. San Francisco is, arguably, even more at risk, not least because a powerful quake would quickly reduce parts of the city built on landfill to rubble and knock out the bridge system that is that city's transportation lifeline.


The Independent, "Massive quake 'overdue' in California's desert resort", 14 August 2007.

"The Insider" mailing list article, 13 August 2007.

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Tags: California, earthquake, warning, overdue, , conspiracy theories.

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