Earthquakes Are Scary and Expensive: The 'Big One' Along San Andreas Fault Would Cost L.A. County $125 Billion

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Wed, Jun 22, 2011 at 4:15 PM

click to enlarge The redder, the more potential damage inflicted by Big One. Good luck, L.A.
  • The redder, the more potential damage inflicted by Big One. Good luck, L.A.
The 'Big One" -- you know, the One you can't seem to push from your mind during rooftop parties atop decrepid downtown buildings, especially each time a semi rolls by -- is coming. Dramatic, yes, and over-exploited by Hollywood (a la "Battle: Los Angeles"), and not worth stressing over in advance, but very real.

In 2005, a University of California study predicted the Big One would hit sooner than later...

... and almost definitely before 2015. "It could be tomorrow or it could be 10 years or more from now," said study author Yuri Fialko at the time. And so we wait, paranoid.

Fialko's findings were even more apocalyptic in science speak:

[My measurements] reveal a nearly equal partitioning of deformation between the southern San Andreas and San Jacinto faults, with a pronouced asymmetry in strain accumulation with respect to the geologically mapped fault traces. The observed strain rates confirm that the SAF is approaching the end of its interseismic recurrence.

Now, scientists, seemingly intent on tying our worst fears (Big Ones) to our worst everyday problems (Great Recessions), have released a second report called "Labor market risks of a magnitude 7.8 earthquake in southern California." Great. In a nutshell, it says that L.A. County businesses would lose $125 billion in annual payroll if the San Andreas fault shook out a 7.8.

Affected L.A. County businesses would number 230,000, it says, with 2.6 million employees "exposed to a destructive shaking zone."

And in SoCal overall, "the economic losses of the ShakeOut Scenario earthquake [would] be approximately $213 billion, when accounting for the direct and indirect earthquake impact," the report predicts.

So now that we're effectively terrified, is there anything to do but pray for salvation?

Lucy Jones, a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey, tells the LA Daily News that a bounce-back attitude will be key.

"We're not telling you to scare you about the quake, but encourage all businesses to get ready for it, be able to be resilient to it," she says. "To be able to reopen quickly is going to affect the quality of life for all of us."

So, to recap, the Big One is coming, and if it doesn't crush you immediately, it will slowly crush your bank account, your dreams, and all else that is dear. And you're just going to have to suck it up -- or mankind may never be the same again.

Only good news: It can't possibly be worse than Japan.


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