In commemorating the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, it can't be all about the memories and history. A bigger earthquake is going to hit the Bay Area, and we can't be in denial about the kind of destruction it could leave behind.
As we've discussed many times before on this site, the next major earthquake in the Bay Area has a decently high probability of occurring on the Hayward Fault. Geologists estimate that there has been a significant quake on the fault, which runs beneath much of the East Bay, about every 150 years, the last time being in 1868. At the time, only 25,000 or so people lived near the fault. That number is now around 2 million.
Last year, the U.S. Geological Survey released the video below in conjunction with its earthquake preparedness project called "HayWired." The project creates a scenario, which the USGS is careful to say is not a prediction, in which the Hayward Fault ruptures with an epicenter beneath Oakland, and the magnitude of the quake is a 7.0. In this scenario, 800 people die, upwards of 100,000 could be displaced, and interruptions of water service cause small fires to become conflagrations like happened in the 1906 earthquake — burning the equivalent of 52,000 homes. Property and business losses could exceed $82 billion in this scenario, not event counting damage from fires.
Imagining tens of thousands of people trapped in elevators, and even more trapped in collapsed buildings, is obviously anxiety-inducing, so if you're not in a strong and level place today, maybe don't watch!
But the video is a sobering look at the kinds of broad, devastating impacts that could follow from a major earthquake, the likes of which the Bay Area hasn't seen since the dawn of the internet — and, at 6.9M, Loma Prieta was technically not considered "major," but just shy of it.
As ABC 7 notes today, many large buildings sit directly on the Hayward Fault, including the Claremont Hotel and the UC Berkeley football stadium. As retired USGS geologist David Schwartz tells the station, "So when [the fault] moves, it moves two feet, or three feet or six feet, those structures are going to be stressed and many of them are going to fail."
Famously, Fremont's former, now abandoned city hall still stands on the Hayward Fault, and a crack through the middle of the building now acts as a "ongoing record of how the fault keeps growing, moving in three different directions," as ABC 7 writes.